Cardinal's impact extends beyond football

Josh Nunes is going to remember the bonding experience with his Stanford teammates -- building two playhouses for Habitat for Humanity and getting off campus to do something good for the community. He's going to remember linebackers Jarek Lancaster and Trent Murphy showing off their art skills while painting Dora the Explorer on the playhouse. He'll remember defensive end Josh Mauro (6-6, 269) and fullback Geoff Meinken (6-4, 255) hamming it up while sticking their heads out of the child-sized windows.

But what was burned into Nunes' memory was the face of the little girl when she saw her new playhouse. It was a look he could only describe as "that glow."

"I don't know how old she was, but she was about two-feet tall," Nunes said. "Being able to do something like that with your teammates is great. But to see her go in that house -- it was just incredible. She was loving every second of it."

One of the playhouses was earmarked for the Blue Star Moms -- a Bay Area organization of mothers with sons and daughters serving in the military. That's the house that went to the little girl.

"Her smile was priceless," said safety Jordan Richards. "I think we all left there feeling pretty good."

About 20 Stanford football players participated in the project last month. The following week, Nunes and Richards were back at it, volunteering with half a dozen teammates to go the Stanford Ronald McDonald House, where they played with kids who are shuttled back-and-forth between Stanford Hospital. A few days later they were off reading to elementary school kids.

It's not like Nunes, Richards -- or any of the other Stanford players for that matter -- have a ton of free time. They have full course loads and football. Both are locked in position battles. Why sacrifice what little downtime they have?

"You make the time," Richards said. "We're always working and grinding so it's nice to just get out there and do something for someone else. Especially in college, as you start to become more self-centered as you're on your own. It's good to widen that scope."

None of this mandatory. Stanford has a program called Cardinal for the Community, which puts athletes interested in helping into roles where they can. Head coach David Shaw lets players know what events are out there and it's not uncommon for some to be turned away because so many volunteer.

"We look for different opportunities -- in particular anything to do with kids -- we try to participate in those," Shaw said. "Read Across America, different children's hospitals etc. I never make it mandatory, but I remind these guys what kind of an impact they have just by showing up and showing that they care. They can inspire people. And it's important for our guys to see how they are perceived by young people and know that they can impact people's lives."

Nunes, who's locked in a quarterback competition to replace Andrew Luck, was no stranger to community service projects growing up. He was actively involved in church projects and considers himself the strongest builder on the team, citing his family mantra "Do it yourself."

"The Ronald McDonald House was great because it was all about the kids," Nunes said. "I was the crafts leader for the day and we made little leprechaun faces. We made cookies and then played in the backyard with the kids doing sports stuff.

"Yes, we're here to graduate and play great football. But that doesn't mean we can't impact lives during our time here. We should make the most of that opportunity."

Naturally, during the season the players are limited in their extra-curricular activities. But when they do get some free time, many of them are looking for ways to help others.

"We talk all the time about the recruiting process and how we're looking for great football players that are great students that are great human beings," Shaw said. "We've got guys who will take a little bit of time because they know how important it is to look at something outside of themselves. We talk about making a positive impact. If we can do that everywhere, in the classroom, on the field and on and off campus, it can have a huge impact for them and the people who look up to them."