STANFORD, Calif. -- It's not as if David Shaw needed something to go his way. The Stanford head coach went 23-4 in his first two seasons. He took the Cardinal to the Fiesta Bowl and followed that with a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl win. He came into this season with one of the best defenses in the nation.
But no. Coach Rabbit's Foot acquired a fifth-year, bell-cow running back this season just by answering a text.
A year ago, Tyler Gaffney left the Cardinal to pursue a professional baseball career. After one successful season in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and one offseason of watching his former teammates win the Rose Bowl, Gaffney asked to come back.
Shaw talked for most of the offseason about replacing All-Pac-12 tailback Stepfan Taylor with a running back by committee. Two games into the season, the Cardinal ground game has matured into e pluribus unum -- out of many, one. If that means that handing the ball to Gaffney is money, well, let the statistics speak for themselves.
The 6-foot-1, 226-pound Gaffney rushed for more than 100 yards against both San Jose State (104) and Army (132). More to the point, he has carried the ball 20 times in each game. That's a step up from his first three seasons, when he had one 100-yard game and rushed for a total of 791 yards. That's a step up from watching in street clothes a year ago.
"If possible, I think it would be great for every football player to experience being a fan for a snippet, just to see it from the outside," Gaffney said. "I was standing on the field right next to all the players. But I'm wearing street clothes. They're in the game. My heart's beating. The intensity's there. But he's not calling my name to go in."
Not that Shaw or his assistant coaches had forgotten Gaffney. He always returned to the football office on his trips back to campus, even though he knew what would happen. The coaches teased him from the minute he walked through the door.
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