The Best Decision I Ever Made
By Coby Fleener
IF YOU HAVE ever visited Stanford University, you’re probably aware of the scenic campus and the beautiful weather 330ish days a year… Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get to see that side of the school when I went on my visit. It rained the entire time, and despite the clothes I packed in preparation for “sunny California”, I didn’t see the sun once.
Seven years ago, (man, I feel old saying that) I was trying to decide which college I should attend. Although I rode the pine my junior year of high school, college football coaches were impressed with my size and athleticism enough (see my college recruitment post) to keep me on their radar, and keep an eye out for future film. My senior season went well, and I had scholarship offers from all over the country.
Eventually, I took visits to Arizona State, Nebraska, and Stanford. At the time, both Arizona State and Nebraska had respectable football programs. Stanford stuck out as an opportunity to get a great education, but I wasn’t sure if I could become an NFL-caliber player there, or if I was relegating myself to a world of losing football, hard classes, and pocket protectors (confession: I don’t know if I’ve ever really seen a pocket protector at Stanford or otherwise). So I did what all good little boys do, I listened to my mom, and made a Pros and Cons list.
In High School, around 2007, my list looked something like this:
Stanford (BEFORE attending Stanford)
- World-Class Education. A diploma from Stanford speaks for itself in any job interview, anywhere.
- Amazing Weather. Allegedly… from what I saw, the sun may not touch that part of California.
- If I redshirted, I could get a Master’s Degree during my time there. Foresight… occasionally I’ll have a moment where I’m blessed with it. Unfortunately, my driving record reflects that I don’t always have it.
- Medical Treatment. Injuries are part of the game. What doctor do you want doing your surgery?
- Unknown, Unproven Coaches. Jim Harbaugh (Head Coach), David Shaw (Offensive Coordinator), and Shannon Turley (Strength and Conditioning Coach) had just been hired from the University of San Diego.
- Hard Classes. How do I keep up with these smart kids?
- Far from Home. I grew up in Illinois. It’s a long trip to get back home.
- New people. I didn’t know anyone on the team. There were 2 guys from Illinois, but I didn’t meet them until I started Freshman year.
- No Fun. Nerds don’t like to go out and have fun.
- I won’t be extra popular because I’m on a sports team like at other schools.
- The jerseys aren’t as outrageous as some other places.
I ultimately chose Stanford (after I thankfully got accepted), and looking back, it was a much more difficult decision than it should have been. It was hard, in part, because I started to believe the junk that coaches were feeding me about how I had NFL potential, and they could definitely get me there. It may have been true, but for all the kids that are told that, only a small percentage are lucky (football is an especially dangerous sport, and rarely does someone go through their college career without injury) and skilled enough to play in the NFL. According to the NCAA, only .08% of high school players make it to the NFL, and only 1.7% of college football players get to the NFL.
Reflecting on my time at Stanford, I wanted to rewrite my Pros and Cons list, so that if I could talk to my high school self, I could truly explain how amazing Stanford is, and how it will change your life.
Dear Young Coby,
DON’T MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY. I wouldn’t be here typing this, and you wouldn’t be there reading it, had I not made the best decision of my life. I’m sure you’re probably skeptical, and going to be a smart young man by writing out a pro’s and con’s list, so let me help you out. I’ll help you make one based on what I know after going to Stanford.
Stanford (AFTER attending Stanford)
(What I thought were) Pros
- World-Class Education. A diploma from Stanford speaks for itself in any job interview, anywhere. After football, what happens if I get injured and can never play football again? This is the thought I couldn’t shake when I ultimately decided on Stanford. IF I WENT SOMEWHERE ELSE AND GOT TO THE NFL, GREAT, BUT I’LL STILL LIKELY NEED A JOB AFTERWARD. IF I DON’T GO TO THE NFL, THEN I NEED TO GET A JOB. WOULD I RATHER WALK INTO AN INTERVIEW WITH A STANFORD DIPLOMA OR ONE FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE?
- Amazing Weather. Except for a few weeks of rain, I don’t know of a place with better weather in the world. Seriously.
- If I redshirted, I could get a Master’s Degree during my time there. I redshirted, and was able to finish my career with both an Undergraduate and Master’s degree from Stanford. If football ended during my time at Stanford, I could have gotten a great job, in a wide variety of fields, very quickly, because of the people I met and the friends I made. If my NFL career ends tomorrow, I should be able to find a high quality job.
- Medical Treatment. Injuries are part of the game. What doctor do you want doing your surgery? I had one surgery while at Stanford, and I had a bunch of minor injuries. All of which healed well thanks to the great medical attention I received while I was there.
What I thought were) Cons
- Unproven Coach? David Shaw is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He is intelligent, a great motivator, and pushed me to be the best player I could be. Coach Shaw understands that every player is different, and therefore might require a different style of coaching in order to make that player the best he can be. Today, I admire him as a Coach, as a man, and as a friend. STANFORD HAS BEEN TO FOUR STRAIGHT BCS BOWL GAMES. YOU WANT TO BE SEEN BY NFL SCOUTS? EVERY. SINGLE. NFL. TEAM. WAS AT MY STANFORD PRO-DAY. Worried about a Coach Shaw leaving? You shouldn’t be. His name was thrown around for multiple NFL teams this year and will for many years to come, but Stanford is his dream job. He went to Stanford, and understands how special it is.
- How about the Strength and Conditioning coaching though? STANFORD HAS THE BEST STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING PROGRAM IN ALL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL, AND PROBABLY MOST OF THE NFL. You want to be a great football player? You can’t be a great player if you’re hurt. If a coach starts bragging to you about the weight room numbers his guys put up, maybe you should ask him how many of those guys made it through the season without missing games or a season-ending injury. Stanford’s Strength and Conditioning program has proven that it helps prevent injury. Can any other school say that? There is a reason an NFL locker room was built in the new Arrillaga Family Sports Center football addition. NFL players come back to train with Shannon Turley.
- Hard Classes? It’s harder to get into Stanford than to stay in Stanford. After that, they want you to succeed (graduation rates make them look good after all), so they are going to provide as much or as little help as you need.
- Far from Home? Yes, you will likely be far from home, but so is everyone else. In any Division 1 football program, it’s going to be difficult to find time to go home, whether you live an hour drive or a four hour flight.
- New people? This shouldn’t have been a con from the start. I didn’t know it at the time, but the biggest benefit of going to Stanford is the opportunity to meet, befriend, and network with the people there. Not only did I make friendships that will last a lifetime, but I also got to meet some of the world’s most powerful men and women. Imagine a world where CEO’s, professional athletes, political leaders, and billionaires want to meet you… as a Stanford Football player, that becomes a reality, and your friends, dorm mates, and classmates will likely make up the next generation of these positions.
- No Fun? There are about a billion clubs and groups at Stanford, if you can’t find anything you like in those, well then you can just create your own. I think you would be surprised at how many opportunities there are to go out at night, whether it is to a frat party, a party in your dorm, or going to San Francisco, there are more than enough opportunities to have fun. “Exotic Erotic” is one party on campus that gets a lot of attention for limiting items of clothing to one item for men and two for women. Let’s just say it gets “creative”.
- Be popular on campus for 4 years. IF YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT THIS YOU SHOULD PROBABLY STOP READING AND GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. AT STANFORD, THE LIST OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF OTHER STUDENTS IS MORE IMPRESSIVE THAN YOUR FOOTBALL STATISTICS, AND THAT IS AWESOME. FIND PEOPLE THAT YOU CAN LOOK UP TO, LEARN FROM, AND GROW WITH, NOT PEOPLE THAT PUT YOU ON A PEDESTAL.
- Freaking Cool Jerseys and FREE athletic gear. STANFORD HAS THE SECOND LARGEST NIKE CONTRACT IN THE NATION. Phil Knight (Co-Founder and Chairman of Nike, Inc.) attended business school at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
I realize that every person has their own individual needs and wants, and in some rare cases, Stanford may not be the right choice for them, but if you have the opportunity to attend Stanford University, please do it. It is literally the opportunity of a lifetime. Attending Stanford University, and playing for the Cardinal is not a 4 year decision, it is a LIFETIME decision.
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Coby Fleener recently completed his second season as a tight end for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. In 2013, he caught 52 passes for 608 yards and four touchdowns. The native of Lemont, Ill., was named All-American at Stanford by CBSsports.com and was selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Colts, with the 34th overall pick.