By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Richard Sherman and Sione Fua were part of the worst season in Stanford football history. Five years later, they can be part of the best season in school annals.
Should the seventh-ranked Cardinal (7-1, 10-1) finish its regular season with a victory over visiting Oregon State (4-3, 5-5) Saturday, that one-win season of 2006 will look like a distant memory with a sparkling 11-1 mark to take into the postseason as the most victories in a single season for Stanford.
"You don't have that same desire to win," Fua said of his first year on campus. "You'd be looking at the clock and you couldn't wait for practice to get over. Even then I knew we had the guys coming in to do things like this and play in a big game."
Fua left school after the spring semester to go on his Mormon mission, but a taste of Jim Harbaugh's first spring camp left him with a good impression.
"I always knew I wanted to come back to Stanford," he said. "We've had a special season so far and we still have some of our goals ahead of us."
Sherman, the team's leading receiver his freshman year, said the work ethic from then to now is about the same. These days it's just more fun.
"People worked hard day in and day out and we go 1-11," Sherman said. "The transition from the work stand point was not that dramatic. It was more about belief and changing the culture."
Harbaugh arrived and began working on the team's mindset from the start.
"He forced people to start believing we can win," Sherman said. "That was definitely part of it. You always hope for something like this, getting to a BCS bowl or the national championship and getting the crystal ball. We're in that position now and it's an amazing feeling."
The Beavers, who opened the season ranked 22nd in the AP poll, are also playing for their postseason lives. Oregon State's remaining games are against Stanford and at home against top-ranked Oregon. One victory will clinch a bowl game for the Beavers, who currently have the fifth most difficult schedule.
Oregon State has gone to bowl games in each of the past four seasons and hopes to extend that streak. The Beavers have already lost to TCU and Boise State, but beat then 9th-ranked Arizona and took care of USC last week. In the middle of all that are bad losses at Washington and UCLA and at home against Washington State.
"They took it to us up in Corvallis," Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck reminded people. "They're capable of beating anybody."
Stanford doesn't have a good recent history with the Beavers either. Oregon State has won nine of the past 13 meetings.
Oregon State will be without senior receiver James Rodgers, but will still have the dynamic running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in three years with a big game against the Trojans.
"They have weapons," Sherman said. "It might be a different dynamic but they still do a great job. Quiz has a low center of gravity and runs hard. He's a bundle of strength."
Rodgers rushed for 189 yards and scored four touchdowns in last year's win, leaving quite an impression on Stanford's returning defensive players.
"He's the key to stopping Oregon State," Fua said. "It will take the whole defense because he can take any play and reverse it all the way to the other side of the field. He can score on any play. You have to get low to tackle him and you can't arm tackle because he'll just break through your arms."
Harbaugh, who brought his two-year daughter Addison to Tuesday's press conference, calls Rodgers "one of the top three or four players in the Pac-10."
The Beavers also have one of the defensive linemen in the country in senior tackle Stephen Paea, a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award.
"He's just so strong, fast and physical," said Luck, one of three finalists for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award with Auburn's Cam Newton and Boise State's Kellen Moore.
"You have to know where he is at all times and is blocked," Harbaugh said. "He is a tremendous football player."
Harbaugh has Oregon State connections with his 21-year-old son Jay Harbaugh serving as a student assistant for the Beavers under head coach Mike Riley, for whom Jim Harbaugh played when both were with the San Diego Chargers in 1999-2000.