Cardinal Seniors Put Stamp On Stanford
By Ryan Reiswig
After a game in which his No. 6-ranked Stanford Cardinal put the No. 22-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish to sleep rather easily, head coach David Shaw had the ultimate praise for his seniors, who played their last game at Stanford Stadium.
"It's got to be the best (senior) class in school history," proclaimed Shaw.
That's pretty tough to argue considering the players the class includes, with many of them contributing greatly to the 28-14 win over the Irish Saturday on senior day at Stanford Stadium.
Not surprisingly, senior Andrew Luck led the charge, completing 20-30 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns were thrown to senior tight end Coby Fleener, who also contributed 97 yards receiving. On defense, senior outside linebacker Chase Thomas led the charge, harassing Irish quarterbacks on the way to five tackles and two sacks.
The Irish were never able to get any consistent offensive threat going. Thomas had a huge part in that from the Irish's first offensive snap of the night when he plowed into quarterback Tommy Rees after he released the ball. Rees, who was eventually replaced in the lineup in the second half by Andrew Hendrix, took awhile to get up after taking the ferocious hit from Thomas. Ever the humble player, Thomas deflected the credit for his performance.
"Our coaches put us in the position to succeed," says Thomas, who had two quarterback hurries to go along with his two sacks. "Credit the scheme they put in, and when I saw the opportunities to make a play I had to capitalize and I couldn't leave any plays on the field that I had in the past."
On top of a victory over an old rival and the seniors getting their last recognition from their home fans, Luck was able to make school history along the way. With his three yard touchdown pass to tight end Levine Toilolo in the first quarter, Luck passed John Elway in career touchdowns (80), and later broke his personal record of single season touchdowns (35). The Cardinal superstar also set the school record for total offense with 10,218 total yards, passing another former standout quarterback, Steve Stenstrom.
Coming to Stanford out of Houston in 2008 as a true freshman, Luck mentions the satisfaction of joining a program that hadn't seen much recent success, to leaving it as one of the top teams in the nation.
"We are all very proud to associated with this program," says Luck. "To be a part of the turnaround, I think gives us a lot more satisfaction than coming in and having everything be a cakewalk."
Camaraderie built over time is another reason this senior class has been so successful. Five out of the 11 defensive starters are seniors, including free safety Michael Thomas, who led the Cardinal with seven solo tackles and an interception he returned 42 yards.
"There's not a greater group of guys in this class that I can think of in any school," says Thomas. "The bond we have in the senior class is something special. It has definitely proven to be beneficial during the course of the last two seasons when we get down in a game or something, we know we have each other's back. We know we can trust the guys next to each other."
That bond was proven against the Irish as the Cardinal didn't have their best defensive performance of the season, but were able to limit running back Cierre Wood to 41 yards on 12 carries. Going into the game, Wood averaged 5.4 yards per carry, the Cardinal limited him to 3.4. The Cardinal pass defense did bend but never broke, corralling Irish standout receiver better than most teams are able to, keeping him under 100 yards receiving.
Something the Cardinal take pride in that many other most other universities cannot is not only maintaining a top five football program but also a top five academic program. Many universities who strive to produce high caliber academic achievement aren't able to produce high caliber athletic achievement. The Cardinal have done both two years in a row.
"We recruited guys that had the vision and that were going to here and do what is unheard of in today's football which is to be a top five education in the nation and a top five football team back-to-back years," says Shaw. "I don't know if that's ever been done, outside of when football first began as a northeastern sport in the Ivy's."
Thomas and the other Cardinal seniors obviously hold no regrets with the choice they made of school institution and would probably do it 100 times over considering the story they've wrote together through the years.
"We're really happy with how things turned out," says Thomas, who after the Cardinal's bowl game will most certainly be wearing an NFL jersey next fall. "I would not have wanted to go to any other school than Stanford."
With Shaw in charge, the Cardinal football team will continue this trend.
"We're doing it well and we're doing it the right way," says Shaw.
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