Sports

Hard work and perseverance pays off for a senior walk-on player

 

A roar erupted after Thursday's practice when Stanford head coach David Shaw announced that senior walk-on inside linebacker Craig Jones had received a scholarship. Jones immediately was mobbed by his teammates.

"I had no idea that was coming," said Jones, a product of Modesto. "When Coach Shaw called me up, I thought I was going to break down the team's post-practice huddle, which I was excited about, because that's a huge honor. And then he hit me with the big news."

What does the scholarship mean to Jones?

"It means a lot," he said. "There's no difference on our team between scholarship and non-scholarship players. But it's one of those things that is really gratifying. We work really hard day-in and day-out, no matter what. Being put on scholarship doesn't change anything as far as that goes from my point of view, but it's nice to be recognized for working hard in any part of life."

More than anything, the scholarship is a reward for hard work, perseverance and being a team player, qualities Jones learned as a freshman.

"I looked up to guys like Griff Whalen and guys that are currently on our team like Rollins Stallworth and Torsten Rotto, that were put on scholarship," said Jones. "That's the dream when you come here as a walk-on, playing football because you love it. And then hoping one day, 'Man, it would be really cool to maybe come back for a fifth year to be put on scholarship like all these guys that work so hard.' You can do it. It takes a lot of hard work every single day."

And with that, he went to break the good news to his parents.

A management, science and technology major, Jones played running back and linebacker at Central Catholic High and was the 2011 NorCal Preps Division V Player of the Year. He rushed for 3,189 yards and scored 40 touchdowns.

As a sophomore, Jones played against Cal and was named Stanford's Outstanding Specials Teams Scout Team Player (Greg Piers Award). Last season, he appeared in 11 games and made two tackles.

* * *

When Joshua Garnett committed to Stanford football in 2012, he joined arguably the most heralded offensive line recruiting classes in school history. A five-star guard prospect by Scout, he came to The Farm with five-star tackles Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy, four-star center Graham Shuler and guard Johnny Caspers.

Garnett, Peat and Murphy immediately logged significant playing time, with Garnett becoming the first true freshman to start on the line since 2000. They have helped pave the way for Stanford's power running game, opening holes for Stefan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and Remound Wright, and firmly established the Cardinal as a smash-mouth team.

"You're here with the guys you grew up with," Garnett said. "I met all those guys in the 11th grade. This is our last go-around together and we want to make it special."

Peat was an All-American last season and is now playing for the New Orleans Saints. Shuler and Caspers did not play in 2012, but Shuler started all 13 games at center last year and is the projected starter this season, while Caspers also played in every game and is expected to start at right guard.

"One of our guys (Peat) already left, so that really made realize that this doesn't last forever," said Garnett. "We want to make this friendship and everything we've worked for count."

In 2014, the offensive line ranked 18th nationally in tackles for loss allowed (4.62/game) and 42nd in sacks allowed (1.77/game). The unit struggled early, but came on strong the last three games, and looks to pound the ball with Wright, Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders.

"I definitely feel like we're ahead of where we finished last season," Garnett said. "But we won't know until the first game. Practice doesn't count until you're under the lights, and we've made a lot of great strides. We really want it to be on us."

On Tuesday night, Garnett, Kevin Anderson, Ronnie Harris, Kevin Hogan, Blake Martinez and Kyle Murphy were selected team captains by their teammates.

"It means a lot to me that they see me as a leader on this team," said Garnett. "With all the goals we set for ourselves, that they think I can be a guy to help lead us to those goals is really humbling and exciting."

Garnett is taking his new role seriously.

"It definitely comes with a lot of responsibility, but I love that weight on my shoulders and love being that guy that people can go to during tough times," he said. "It's easy to lead when things are going well, but I'm kind of that guy who is a torch carrier, leading you in that dark cave when you're just as far ahead as you are behind."

* * *

Shaw said the biggest surprises of training camp have been the overall play of his freshmen, along with wide receivers Francis Owusu and Rollins Stallworth.

"The readiness to play," he said of the rookies. "They're showing us why they got recruited. A lot of these guys are ready to play. It's been nice to have that many choices."

* * *

Sophomore Jordan Perez and junior Kevin Palma are the front runners for the second starting inside linebacker position alongside Martinez. Perez is 6-2, 219 pounds, while Palma is 6-2, 252 pounds. Despite the weight difference, Shaw said Perez is more than capable of holding his own.

"Jordan Perez hits like a big guy," Shaw said.

* * *

Shaw has never been concerned about the term "starter."

"The good thing is that we rotate guys," said Shaw. "Whoever starts, it doesn't really matter to me, because multiple guys are going to play. Whoever plays the best will play a little bit more."

* * *

The team let out another cheer after practice Wednesday afternoon when Shaw canceled the evening meetings and sent his players to the movies to see 'Southpaw.'

"It was great," Garnett said. "It was good to get off our feet and relax as a team."

* * *

Shaw and his staff have begun preparing for the season opener at Northwestern on Sept. 5 and are watching film of the Wildcats daily.

"At least half an hour or 45 minutes," he said. "I want to keep things fresh with what they're doing."

* * *

Quote of the week: "We're getting tired of blocking and hitting each other. We'll finish this week, and it will be good to concentrate on someone else." -- Shaw

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