Aziz Shittu is poised to have a big season for the Stanford football team. The 6-foot-3, 277-pound senior defensive lineman from Atwater missed the last six games in 2014 with an injury and participated in only the last two spring practices. But he's healthy now and provides experience and a physical presence to a young line looking to make its mark.
"I think he was a little frustrated yesterday," Stanford coach David Shaw said, alluding to Monday's practice. "Our trainer had to remind him he hasn't played since mid-season last year, and that it was his first day back without training wheels on. Today was much better. He is so explosive, energetic and athletic. He made about four or five plays today ... I told him if he makes those plays every game, he's a great player and we're a great team."
Shittu is thrilled to be back.
"It's a good time to be out here with my fellow seniors and finish this thing off right," he said Tuesday. "It's been a nine-month journey. Every day I come out here and thank God I'm able to play with my teammates. I can't be more excited. If I could, I'd take all the reps."
Last year, Shittu collected 13 tackles, 1 1/2 tackles for loss and one sack. He made four tackles against USC and three versus Washington.
As tough as it was to sit out, Shittu has enjoyed watching the development of rising sophomores Harrison Phillips and Solomon Thomas. Injuries forced Phillips into early playing time and he has gotten bigger and stronger, while Thomas shined on the scout team.
"There has been tremendous progress from all the guys across the board," Shittu said. "From our training program this summer and the spring -- they definitely attacked it."
Shittu has helped them with encouragement and leadership as much as possible.
"I try to be like an older figure for them," he said. "They bounce questions off me. They're taking it upon themselves and doing a good job on their own. I fill in the blanks where they need help."
His former teammates did the same for him.
"I learned a lot from David Parry, Henry Anderson, Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro, all those guys," said Shittu. "They were able to teach me how to get it done and what the process was. I couldn't be more thankful for having them around during my career."
Shittu recorded 101 tackles and eight sacks his senior year at Buhach Colony High. He was a five-star recruit by Rivals and was ranked the 27th-best overall recruit in the nation and third-best strong side defensive end.
No one has to remind Shittu that this is his final season on The Farm and he's ready to make the most of it. The psychology major made the Pac-12 All-Academic second team last year.
"It's always built in, senior year just adds-on," he said. "Coach (Randy) Hart always preaches that your senior year needs to be your best year. Every day I'm just going to try and get better and keep doing my job."
For the second consecutive day, Shaw was pleased by the hustle and enthusiasm his players showed. They will don shoulder pads on Wednesday and practice in full gear on Thursday.
"I love our tempo, I love our energy, guys are talking," Shaw said. "It's an intense, motivated group. But at the same time, it's been unbelievably respectful. Guys are staying off the ground and putting hands on guys instead of running into them. We haven't had anybody thrown to the ground. These guys know how to work without pads on and that's the sign of a mature football team."
Sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey added about 10 pounds during the off-season and now weighs 205. He has switched uniform numbers from 27 to 5, wearing the latter in high school ... Johnny Caspers and Graham Shuler both practiced at center. "We're going to roll some guys through there and see if it turns into a competition," said Shaw. "Graham's our starter right now." ... On Monday, former Cardinal standouts Chris Dalman and Steve Stenstrom attended the first practice. Both played for the San Francisco 49ers ... Also on hand was ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer ... Another interested observer was Jack Snyder, who played for Stanford in 1979-83. His son, Ben, is a freshman tight end ... Saturday's 4-6 p.m. practice is open to the public ... Two-a-day workouts are scheduled to start Monday.