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Washington Notebook: Road Adjustments

Dec 3, 2020

THE BAGS WERE packed for a long trip when the Stanford football team left for Seattle on Tuesday for a journey that will take it through the end of the regular season, two or three weeks away depending on whether a Dec. 19 game materializes. 

A team without a home. This is new territory, certainly in the age of Power Five football.

On Nov. 28, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department updated its guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prohibited contact sports through at least Dec. 21. Unable to practice or play within the county, the Cardinal will remain on the road through games at Washington on Saturday and at Oregon State on Dec. 12, previously scheduled for Stanford Stadium.

The decision was not simple, logistically or philosophically. The fall quarter is complete, so academics was not an issue, but safety and other factors were. Each player took a survey and was invited to speak directly to a coach if there were concerns. A handful chose to opt out, though none were projected starters. 

"We always ask two questions: Should we and can we?" said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "The 'should we?' is always answered by the student-athletes. Should we continue to play? Do we find a way to play?

"Our student-athletes have worked extremely hard and been through a lot. They want to play."

The 'can we?' was made possible through Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, provost Persis Drell, Jaquish & Kenninger Director of Athletics Bernard Muir, and the combined efforts of operations leaders Matt Doyle and Callie Dale and medical and equipment personnel. 
In a span of about 24 hours, a plan was put in place. University of Washington granted Stanford access to its Dempsey Indoor facility on Tuesday. The Cardinal will practice at local high schools the rest of the week. On Sunday, the Cardinal will begin a week in Corvallis leading to the game against the Beavers. 

"Our guys have had that mantra, 'relentlessly adapt,' the entire season," Shaw said. "This is what we've had to do." 
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MANY OPTIONS WERE on the table, including staying in the Bay Area and practicing in neighboring counties. All the while, there was the understanding that "if our student-athletes said we don't want to do this, then we wouldn't do it," Shaw said. "But, across the country, this is part of what they want to do, why they went to the universities they went to. Yes, to get an education. And, yes, to play their sports. It's on us as mentors and coaches to give them the best opportunity to compete.

"This pandemic is relentless, it's brutal, it's very difficult. At the same time, to be in the middle of a pandemic and we haven't had a single positive on our team in months … That means our student-athletes are working really hard because they want to play."
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Kyu Blu Kelly and Curtis Robinson make the tackle in the Big Game. Photo by Bob Drebin/

FOR ALL THAT'S happened this year, the Axe is back.

"To a man, in asking all of our guys which game stings the most from last year? Which do you want to win the most this year? They all say 'Cal.'

"That feeling of getting back the Axe was very important to our guys. I think their emotions after the game really showed that."
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IT WASN'T UNTIL the third game, last Saturday's 24-23 Big Game victory over Cal, that the Stanford offense had QB Davis Mills and WR Connor Wedington in action after a full week of practice. It was the first time the offense was given the chance to prepare and play together. The work seemed to show most in the way the Cardinal grinded out first downs in the fourth quarter. Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat picked up important yardage on the ground with the Cardinal holding a lead. 

"You saw part of the way we ran the ball in the second half was a lot like the way we want to look," Shaw said. "The way we threw the ball in the second half the previous game (a 35-32 home loss to Colorado) also was a lot like the way we want to look. 

"We were better. Now, it's making all the throws, making all the catches, and still getting some explosive plays. Combine that with the way that we ran the ball physically in the second half … Hopefully, all those things continue to converge the rest of the season where we really start to be the complete offense we want to be."
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LAST WEEK, VANDERBILT'S Sarah Fuller, under former Stanford assistant Derek Mason, made the second-half kickoff to become the first woman in the history of Power Five schools to play football. 

Shaw shared his thoughts: 

"It's almost happened multiple times," he said. "It was only a matter of time. And, like anything, it takes the right person. It takes the right environment, it takes the right people on the team and on the staff.

"I watched Sarah's postgame interview and, knowing nothing about her, I got excited. I got excited that young girls all over the country would see that interview and say, 'that's what I want to be.' She talked with clarity, she talked with confidence. She talked about her difficulties in life and in sports and in having to make that decision – do I want to continue in sports? And, yes, I'm so glad I did continue and this is what it gave me.

"Her message is great, her message is pure. My daughter grew up playing soccer and there are young women out there who can kick a ball a long way. For anybody who wants to dedicate themselves to that, and have an opportunity, God bless them and I wish them well.

"It was a barrier that was bound to be broken and I'm glad that it was, and look forward to the day that it's just not that big of a deal."
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IN THIS YEAR of the pandemic, with games being canceled and scheduled at the last minute, Washington coach Jimmy Lake was asked this of Stanford:

Reporter: "Are they the only team that you're preparing for currently?"

Lake: "Yes. How about that? Is that the first time anybody's ever asked that question? Oh, man, 2020. You gotta love it." 


Connor Wedington, against Washington, 2019. Photo by Bob Drebin/