Stanford's Skov Leads Cardinal D Into Bowl Season
Playing on a team featuring the runner-up for this year's Heisman Trophy and one of the country's juggernaut offenses, it's understandable how a standout defender on that team may feel overlooked.
For Stanford sophomore linebacker Shayne Skov, this situation serves as a source of motivation to turn the spotlight toward his defense.
"We've definitely had a chip on our shoulder this season because people were sleeping on us defensively," says Skov, who made honorable mention on the All-Pac-10 team in just his second season wearing the cardinal and white. "I think they still are, so we look forward to continuing to prove them wrong."
Skov, who was born in San Francisco, attended Piedmont High in Piedmont, Calif. as a freshman in 2006, then moved to Dutchess County, N.Y., where he finished his high school career at Trinity-Pawling High. Needless to say, there were many colleges back east who would have loved for him to play linebacker for them, however Skov wanted to get back to the Bay Area and play for a school he has so much respect for.
"Coming back to the Bay Area was one. Two, just the overall excellence," says Skov when discussing his reasons for migrating west after high school. "Academics, athletics, the integrity of the guys in the program and the locker room really gets along. It's a cohesive unit. That kind of environment was one that I wanted to be a part of."
Once Skov hit the Stanford campus he proved he belonged. Playing in all 13 games as a true freshman, Skov started the last seven of them, finishing with 62 tackles. The former high school U.S. Army All-American kept the postseason awards coming at the next level by earning honorable mention freshman All-America marks by CollegeFootballNews.Com.
"I was fortunate to play with some seniors last year in the linebacking core that really helped me through, and this year coach (Vic) Fangio has taught me a lot about the game systematically and a lot about scheming opponents," Skov says. "We're physical and aggressive so combining the two things has really helped me along."
As great players always do, Skov has managed to take his game to the next level year after year. This year, Skov started in all 10 games in which he participated, and leads Stanford with 72 tackles, six more than the second-leading tackler; he's accomplished all this despite missing the first two games of the season because of injury.
"I think Shayne's had a good year for us," says defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, a veteran of 24 seasons coaching in the NFL. "He's improved as the season has wore on."
The leader of Stanford's defense, Skov is playing the position some say comes natural to him as it fits his tenacious and aggressive style of play.
"You're in a position to take it to the offense," Skov explains about the position of linebacker. "You can be the emotional leader out there; you're in the thick of things every single snap whether it be pass coverage and definitely against the run, bringing that attacking mindset to the offense and just the opportunity to punish them and impose your will."
Skov and the Stanford defense will need to impose their will when they travel to Miami, Fla., to face Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl on January 3. While Stanford has Andrew Luck, Virginia Tech features one of the nation's top quarterbacks as well, Tyrod Taylor. In Stanford's only loss of the season this year against Oregon, they faced Darron Thomas, a quarterback with a style similar to that of Taylor. Both are very good passers that are extremely mobile. This doesn't worry Skov, however.
"We are going to keep bringing pressure like we always have," says the 243-pound Skov. "[Taylor] is mobile so we are going to have to be focused in how we approach that and not lose our leverage. We are just going to keep playing as we have, blitzing and bringing different looks and pressuring the offense and dictating what they do instead of them dictating what we do."
While Thomas and Taylor are similar quarterbacks in regards to their style, Oregon and Virginia Tech differ in their style of offense. Oregon has the spread, fast paced offense while Virginia Tech employs a pro-style offense.
"[Virginia Tech's] offense is a little different," Skov says. "It's a little bit different in how we approach them. Definitely we have to have good contain on the edges when we pass rush and we have to have good rush up the middle. It's a challenge we're looking forward to."
When a player is improving and taking his game to the next level at the pace Skov has in his first two years in college, one cannot help but think of the possibility of playing in the NFL. But Skov has a goal he wants to accomplish before he even thinks about leaving his Cardinal teammates.
"I want to make sure I get my degree before I'd ever leave," Skov says. "I love playing with these guys, I couldn't imagine leaving them."
Skov's teammates and coaches should be particularly happy the linebacker plans on seeing out the remainder of his degree.
"I think he is one of the best linebackers in the Pac-10 right now," Fangio says.
Stanford will need a great effort from Skov and the rest of the Cardinal in order to take down the 13th-ranked Hokies in what promises to be an exciting 77th Orange Bowl.
"I definitely predict a victory," says a confident Skov. "But other than that it's going to be a hard-fought game and we're just really gunning for it."