With nine new defensive starters, there have been questions about Stanford's strength on that side of the ball heading into Saturday's season-opening football game at Northwestern.
David Shaw, Stanford's head coach who is now in his fifth season, said he feels comfortable about where the Cardinal defense stands.
"I was very confident, but still uncertain a little bit before training camp," he said. "But I feel really good right now about the guys playing within the scheme, knowing where their help is, doing their responsibilities, and also having the talent enough to do it."
He was speaking of Alijah Holder and Alameen Murphy, two sophomores battling for a starting spot at cornerback, but may have been referring to the defense as a whole when he said:
"I have all the confidence those guys are going to go out there and play extremely well. As a coach, you learn not to expect perfection, but to push guys toward perfection. There are going to be mistakes, but high effort and great technique makes up for mistakes.
"It's not going to be a perfect game, but those guys are going to play well."
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Senior left guard Josh Garnett was named to the preseason All-America first team by USA Today this week, but the way he describes it, he's much less accomplished than his twin sister, Rachel, captain of the debate team at Wiley College, a historically black school in Marshall, Texas.
This isn't just any debate team. They are known as "The Great Debaters" and their success in defeating some of the best schools in the country inspired a 2007 film directed by and starring Denzel Washington.
"She's really helped me see that the better you can articulate, the better you can get your point across," Garnett said. "She's also taught me to step back and look at both sides before saying anything, which has really helped me out in football."
Garnett, a human biology major from Puyallup, Wash., worked in a stem-cell lab this summer and aspires to be an emergency room doctor. Still, he defers to Rachel is many ways.
"I can't tell you how many times I've called my sister and said, 'Hey, I'm real nervous about the speech I have to give,' " he said. "She gives me all these greats tips and advice.
"When you see and hear Rachel, the way she talks and articulates is amazing," he said. "Anyone who meets her will tell you that."
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Rollins Stallworth III, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on, has only one catch in his career. But he will get the start at wide receiver.
Stallworth's background is worth recalling, having credited much of his development as an athlete and a person to his father, Rollins Stallworth Jr.
His father coached at Reno's Procter Hug High School for 25 years, including 17 as head coach. Stallworth fielded playoff teams even though the school did not receive the support of wealthier competitors or have as many players. For years, Stallworth turned down more fashionable coaching opportunities to look after kids who often had no other advocates, even at home.
"My dad is the biggest and best role model in my life," Stallworth said earlier in his Stanford career. "He's well-known in the Reno area as a head football coach, but more than that, a mentor and a father to a lot of inner-city kids.
"He's always trying to help people. He doesn't even care if he gets the reward, or the thank you. At Hug, it's not just being a coach, it's being a father, being a mentor. It's having to get one of your players out of trouble when you need to. You're always on call.
"He's way more than a coach, and I've always respected that about him."
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Preparing for an opening game in college football is much different than in the NFL. For instance, there are no exhibition games to glean information from and the rosters turn over so much every year.
"It's always tough," Shaw said. "In college, midway through that first game, you have a better idea of who you are and also who you're playing. They may have installed a new defense or a new blitz. There may be a couple of new wrinkles on offense.
"That's the excitement of college football, you go into your first game not really knowing what you have on your side or their side."
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Shaw likes what he sees from Brennan Scarlett, a fifth-year graduate transfer (from Cal) defensive end.
"He knows how to work," Shaw said. "He's very smart, he knows the game plan and what the responsibilities are, and he plays hard and with tremendous effort. He's done everything we've asked of him. From a football side, we've got a guy who has experience, who has played in games, and played in big games. He's played against competition we're playing this year, and that's very comforting."
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The backup quarterback spot remains up for grabs between Palo Alto High grad Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns, and Shaw is hoping he can work in both for certain plays, much as he did when current starter Kevin Hogan got his first taste of game action.
"We've gone as far as we can evaluating in practice, it's time to evaluate some game time," Shaw said. "Those are two guys who are ready to play. I would love to get both of those guys a lot of significant snaps this year. We need them."
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The 9 a.m. (PT) kickoff is one of the earliest local starts in Stanford history. This is the eighth morning start all-time, but only three previous have begun at 11 a.m. or earlier. Stanford's earliest start? A 10:30 a.m. kickoff (Hawaiian Time, but 7 a.m. PT), for the 1991 Aloha Bowl against Georgia Tech.