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Holding The Line

Oct 6, 2013

Note: The following feature ran in the game program for the Washington game on October 5.

You don’t become tight on and off the field without trust, a quality Stanford defensive linemen Henry Anderson, Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro and David Parry share. The Cardinal seniors have fought together in the trenches for four seasons, and always have each other’s back. They are talented, physical, gritty, blue collar players who compete until they hear a whistle and are always striving to improve.

“They work hard, they like each other and compete together, so as a result, they play well together,” said defensive line coach Randy Hart, now in his 44th year in college coaching. “They’re a lot alike.”

Anderson, a 6-foot-6, 295-pound end from Atlanta, sustained a knee injury in the second game against Army but will return this season; Gardner, is a 6-4, 277-pound end from Mequon, Wisc; Mauro is a 6-6, 282-pound end from Hurst, Texas; and Parry is a 6-2, 303-pound tackle from Marion, Iowa.

Mauro didn’t start in Stanford’s 3x4 scheme until Anderson was hurt, but never lacked for playing time.

“There are only three spots for our d-line, but everyone in our program knows we have four starters, including Josh,” said Parry.

Gardner and Mauro, fifth-year seniors, said their group instinctively knows what each other is thinking during games and are constantly making adjustments.

“There’s a lot of chemistry in the group,” Gardner said. “It’s really a seamless transition when we’re on the field. All four of us are hungry, high-effort players. It’s fun to get out there on Saturdays.”

Here is Hart’s scouting report:

“Henry is a big athlete that runs well. He’s smart and has improved 1,000 percent from where he started. He’s done a great job for a big guy of keeping his pads down low and has good lower body strength.

“Ben is a coach on the field. He’s very athletic and can create a mismatch with an offensive lineman. But more importantly, he can get us lined up and sees what’s going on out there as far as past performances of the team we’re playing.

“Josh is the spunky one of the group. He plays hard, works hard and has a great passion for the game. Other than his physical skills, he’s a smart rascal as well. Everything we do is a recess for him.

“David is the youngest of the bunch. He’s a tough guy and a competitor. He also has a low center of gravity and is a good, strong player that people have a tough time moving.”

All four players have nicknames.

Anderson is known as “The Goose” because of his nine-foot wingspan; Gardner is “Old 49” and the “Elder Statesman”; Mauro is “Wild Horse” because he loves to run around; and Parry is “Thwomp” from the video game Super Mario.

“The big thing is we trust other and don’t want to let those other guys down,” Anderson said. “We can get on each other. If we see a bad play on film or someone looks stupid, we’ll be sure to point it out.”

Hart saves their nicknames for special occasions.

“Every now and then, if they know I mean business, I use them,” he said. “They’ve got that figured out.”

They’ve also learned there are no shortcuts to success.

“We just keep our heads down and keep working,” said Gardner. “That’s a special thing about this group is that we don’t have any individuals. We all understand how the pieces fit together and how we need to approach each practice and each game in order to be a dominant defense we believe that we can be. We’ve played too many games to forget that you need to bring it every week.”

Mauro, who collected a sack and his first interception in his first career start against Arizona State this year, said Stanford’s three-straight BCS appearances are no fluke. They are the direct result of commitment and hard work.

“Some people see the success we’ve had and know about the academic greatness here and think we have the cake and are able to eat it, too,” he said. “But people don’t see what we do in the winter or how we practice in the spring or what we do in the summer. When we have success and are physically able to dominate other teams, it’s not a surprise to us. It’s kind of the expectation here. The way we practice is the way we play. There’s no brother-in-law on the offensive or defensive line. We get after each other.”

Gardner agreed.

“I think it’s a team-wide thing,” said Gardner, who blocked a punt against ASU. “We don’t practice like a team that has national championship aspirations; we practice like a team that nobody knows about it. We come out here and fly around and compete every day, like jobs are on the line. That’s what it takes to be a championship team.”

Last year, the Cardinal led the nation with a school record 57 sacks. It also paced the Pac-12 in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and tackles for loss. Anderson recorded 13 tackles for loss, 5½ sacks and broke up five passes; Gardner had 3½ tackles for loss, one sack, and forced a fumble against Notre Dame; Mauro had five tackles for loss, six sacks, and recovered two fumbles, the latter setting up a game-winning drive against Oregon State; and Parry had three tackles for loss and two sacks after moving into the starting lineup the last three games.

“I was feeling pretty good after the Duke game, but the USC game was when I really got my feet wet and made a few plays and the game started slowing down for me,” said Parry. “After my first start against UCLA, that was like my full confirmation. It all comes with reps.”

Parry’s favorite part of playing nose tackle is canning the center.

“When we’re playing an odd front, I’m lined up right over the center’s nose,” he said. “It’s me and him a lot. I like putting my hands on the guy and tossing him around a little bit.”

Asked what has made the Stanford defense so effective, Parry pointed to pride and experience.

“Probably just the high standard we set for ourselves,” said Parry. “All the guys that are out there now have played a decent amount and know what’s needed to be successful and get where we want to be. If we’re not playing right, it’s not only the guys around you who will get you going but I think every guy out there has internal motivation to keep up with everybody and not let your teammates down.”

Admittedly, Cardinal players still don’t feel they have received proper respect east of the Mississippi. The majority of its games are played at night and are seldom watched to conclusion, if at all.

“I think it drives all of us,” said Anderson. “Going back to when Toby (Gerhart) was runner-up for the Heisman. Then (Andrew) Luck was runner-up twice-in-a-row. I think we all started to get a little chip on our shoulder about how we don’t get any respect from those East Coast writers. I don’t think we’ll ever feel like we get the respect we deserve.”

Added Gardner, “When we weren’t getting any attention, and we felt like we had a good football team, nobody recognized it. We learned how to play with an attitude, and we try to bring that attitude every Saturday.”

Stanford players are just as competitive in the classroom as they are on the field.

“For me, if somebody scores better on a test or something, I’m kind of ticked off and want to do better the next time,” said Anderson, a political science major.

He also likes disproving the myth that you can’t be a good football player and student simultaneously.

“There’s time to do it,” he said. “You just can’t be lazy about it. Time management is obviously huge. You just can’t be a bum when you get back to your dorm and sit on your couch and play video games and watch TV. Get your work done and get on to the next day.”

Gardner, selected to four post-season award watch lists, thinks Stanford’s physical style still catches some opponents off guard.

“People always talk about that like it’s a surprising thing,” said Gardner. “I think it’s an advantage because we can do so many more things schematically than a lot of teams, just because we have a lot of smart guys.”

Continuity has been a key factor in the development of the line.

“We’ve got a four-man rotation we’ve been going with for four years now with Josh, Ben, David and I,” said Anderson. “And Ike (Ikenna Nwafor) and Aziz (Shittu) have started to work in the rotation. We play pretty solid most games, but it seems like there’s one or two guys that jump out and get on a little roll and make a few plays and feed on the energy. I think we’re all-conference caliber players. It’s not surprising that one of us will jump out in a game and make a bunch of plays.”

Gardner is grateful to former head coach Jim Harbaugh and Shannon Turley, the Kissick Family Director of Football Sport Performance, for instilling toughness.

“That was already in place by the time we got here in ’09,” he said. “Just over the years, the talent has caught up to the toughness. You can attribute that to the older guys in the program: the Bo McNallys, Clinton Snyders, Sione Fuas and Owen Marecic-type guys that really passed on the work habits to the younger players like myself and the rest of the guys you see making plays now. As you win games, you’re able to bring in more high caliber players. Once you instill the work ethic that we try to instill here, the sky is the limit.”