Sports

Shuler's presence has grown on Stanford's football team

 

Graham Shuler became a little rebellious his senior year at Brentwood Academy. The junior center let his hair grow.

Three years later, except for a trim, it's still growing just as the junior center has been growing in importance for the Stanford football team.

"Growing up, I went to private schools all through K through 12," said Shuler, who hails from Franklin, Tenn. "It's just fun for me. It will be gone after this year."

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise. His older brother, Bengie, is a professional singer and his mother is a recording artist, who has three albums out. Shuler played the bass guitar.

"Music is in my blood," he said. "I've written some music. My sophomore year I started transitioning toward football."

It also happened to be the year he took a visit to Notre Dame, during the 2010 weekend in which the Irish played Stanford.

"That's the game where Owen Marecic scored two touchdowns in a row," Shuler said. "My dad said, 'maybe we should talk to those coaches.' I said 'there's no way I'm going to school in California.'"

Shuler, who will be on the field when Stanford (7-5) meets Maryland (7-5) in the Foster Farms Bowl at 7 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN), had his heart set on going to Georgia or Auburn or another of the SEC schools.

"My dad played football at Auburn and my mom ran track," Shuler said. "I liked the college football life. I could spend four years as a demigod walking around campus.

"When I had the opportunity to come out here, I was standing in the plaza in front of Memorial Church with my dad. I looked around and said, 'I could go here?' I'd never seen or heard about so many opportunities like this place," Shuler said.

Shuler gave his verbal commitment at the end of his junior year, though he had a few thoughts about changing his mind. He's glad he stuck with his decision.

"I'm walking around and there are guys who doing great things," Shuler said. "Why should I be the big deal when there are people changing the world like that?" 

When he's finished with football, Shuler said he still wants to make an impact.

"I want to help people," he said. "Going to Stanford is a privilege and there are responsibilities that go with that. I have an obligation to go out and do something special."

He's doing something with the Cardinal, which won its last two regular-season games against Cal and UCLA to qualify for the visit to Levi's Stadium.

"He's shown flashes of being what we hope he can be," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "He's very athletic and stronger than he looks."

Strength and technique allow him to control defensive players bigger and heavier than himself. He studies NFL centers to pick up moves and tips.

Shuler is part of a revamped offensive line that had been called inconsistent and had drawn its share of penalties. The line took it upon themselves to work that much harder.

"You never want to be called inconsistent," Shuler said. "But we had been inconsistent. We had too many false starts. We needed to start preparing better and respond in a better manner."

That response has been noticed.

"Stanford's offensive line traditionally has been unbelievable," Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "They wanted to keep that going and they've done a great job of improving every week."

Schuler likes to watch film of himself and he continually studies details.

"My footwork and technique are a source of pride," Shuler said. "When I take a wrong step, it affects the whole team. So I watch and try to question how to fix that step. Why do I step that way?"

Like the rest of the line, he's stepping in the right direction. The Cardinal played its two best games at the end of the season.

"The offense struggled to find an identity," Hogan said. "Yes, we did have new personnel but we started figuring it out. We got back to basics."

Maryland will have its own set of challenges.

"Their quarterback is talented and their offensive line plays well together," Stanford defensive tackle David Parry said. "They spread it out a little bit and they do a ton of different stuff. We're going to have to be ready for anything."

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