Sports

Start of football camp is Harbaugh's Happy New Year

 

By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

For Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh, the New Year starts with the first day of practice. And his resolutions have not changed since the day he accepted the job offered by Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby.

The New Year arrived Monday when freshmen and veterans were put through their paces on the Stanford practice facility behind Maples Pavilion.

The Cardinal is coming off its first winning season in nine years, an appearance in a bowl game and with high expectations.

"This is the start of that year," Harbaugh said. "For the last 30 years, every year brings a new football season. The training camp is so important to forge our identity. We get excited, it makes our heart pound and our eyes bulge and that's 30 minutes before meeting."

The quest begins, as it has in his previous three years, with an eye toward winning the Pac-10 championship and then winning in the Rose Bowl. For the first time, he'll be coaching the same starting quarterback for a second straight year.

Redshirt sophomore Andrew Luck looked like the gawky kid next door when he first met the press last year as the newly-installed starter and his answers were sometimes awkward.

It wasn't long before Luck not only accepted the challenge but thrived in his environment.

He grew in confidence and ability, seemingly taking quantum leaps and then having to sit on the sidelines in Stanford's 31-27 loss to Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl, the result of a broken bone in his right hand sustained in the victory over Notre Dame on Nov. 28.

Luck developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the Pac-10, and some say he's one of the best in the country.

"He is a true talent and an extremely hard worker," Harbaugh said. "What makes a kid that good? He's all about his teammates and distains the role of celebrated quarterback. He's a tremendous student. His talent is true and rare."

Luck's father, Oliver, had a brief career in professional football as a quarterback and started one season for the Houston Oilers. Harbaugh is a former NFL quarterback himself. Oliver Luck never pushed the game of football unto his son, but he was there if he wanted to talk.

"He and his dad both have a deep, abiding respect for the game," Harbaugh said. "Those are two guys with brilliant minds. One was a Rhodes Scholar and the other was his high school's valedictorian. He's one of the brightest students at Stanford regardless."

Luck will be without Heismann Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart in the backfield, and most people think Stanford will become more pass-oriented.

But for guys like Jeremy Stewart and Tyler Gaffney, there's an opening. Harbaugh calls the Pac-10 "a strong man's conference," and that means running the ball.

Stewart has no intention of filling Gerhart's shoes. He wants to show his own talent.

"We've learned how to win and what it takes to win," Stewart said. "We've embraced winning. Training camp is about competing; it's where everything starts to fall in line. The goal is to win every game and that is a doable feat."

Stewart, a senior, also looks for Luck to have a great year.

"He's a great talent," said Stewart. "He has all the tangibles and the intangibles. He's a great team leader."

And so it begins.

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