No member of the Stanford football team gets more joy playing the game than Aziz Shittu.
The 6-3, 279-pound senior defensive end from Atwater (Calif.) is an imposing figure in uniform but a kid at heart. Thus, being at Disneyland last weekend and playing in the 102nd Rose Bowl Game on Friday against Iowa is right up his ally.
"I love the opportunity after a hard week of practice to go out there for three hours and have fun with the boys," said Shittu, often the initiator of singing and dancing. "I treasure that. It's just me being me, having a good time and celebrating with my teammates after a win."
Fifth-year senior cornerback Ronnie Harris is usually close by.
"When he turns on his smile, he can light up a room," Harris said. "Aziz is the funniest person I know. He is a complete jokester off the field, but also loving and caring. He's one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back if you need it."
A five-star recruit, Shittu chose Stanford over Cal and USC. He will graduate this spring with a psychology degree and his dream job is to work for Nike. Shittu interned for a financial company last summer and is a three-time Pac-12 All-Academic selection. In 2015, he was tabbed a first-team All-Pac-12 choice.
"My experience has been really cool from start to finish," he said. "Freshman year I lived with two roommates from different parts of the world and was really able to jell with them in the Stanford community, which is the best community you could ever find."
When he was being recruited in 2010, Shittu watched the Cardinal cruise to a 40-12 victory against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
"When I first received my scholarship offer, it was two or three days after the game, so Stanford was already on the upswing," said Shittu. "I wanted to be part of that ascent during my time here. It's a testament to this university and how things get done."
Regardless of how things went on the field, he knew he would set himself up for life.
"It's the best of both worlds," Shittu said. "No matter how my football career went, I knew coming here that I could be successful in anything that I wanted to do. These are the people that I wanted to surround myself with. Everybody who comes here wants to excel, and if you surround yourself with people like that, you have no choice but to excel."
The youngest of four children, Shittu played in five games as a true freshman and 10 as a sophomore. In 2014, he got off to a fast start and recorded 13 tackles in five contests before sustaining a season-ending knee injury.
With little depth up front, Shittu paced himself until fall camp, then unleashed his beast mode and has been a force all season.
"The guy has a switch," said Harris. "When Aziz decides he doesn't want to be blocked, he can't be blocked. His motor is definitely where it needs to be right now."
Shittu's emotions are contagious.
"When he's excited, it becomes infectious to our defense," Harris said. "After he makes a tackle or a sack, he'll kind of pose for the camera and we always give him a little grief. That level of intensity he brings gives us a boost. When he has that front rocking and Blake (Martinez) has that middle rocking and Dallas (Lloyd) and Kodi (Whitfield) have the back end rocking, it gets lights out and we all get in a zone."
Shittu isn't surprised about the success of the defense this season. Despite returning only two starters, the unit has held its own and has been ranked near the top of many Pac-12 statistical categories.
"A standard has been set about how to work and get things done," he said. "It's always the next-man-up philosophy. From the outside perspective it was, 'Oh, how can they get this done?' We always knew there was talent in the room. Guys just didn't have game experience."
Stanford's depth took a blow when sophomore nose tackle Harrison Phillips went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opener at Northwestern. But the group has hung tough and been an integral part of the team's success.
"We don't really see it as being an issue," said Shittu. "We have a ton of guys who can play football for us."
Their mantra has been play together as a group, focus every play, and keep pushing until the job is done.
"It could be the 11th play of a 12-play drive and your quads are burning, but you have to give that extra more," Shittu said. "We talk about it all the time. If it's a long one, it's a lone one. As long as we come out on top, that's the biggest things for us."
Shittu has enjoyed playing for defensive line coach Randy Hart, now in his 46th year at the collegiate level.
"It's a pretty neat deal," he said. "He's been around the game longer than I've been alive. All the knowledge he has about different teams, different techniques and learning from him has been great. He's an even better motivator because he knows how to get the best out of you day in and day out."
Shittu will be making his third trip to the Rose Bowl Game and helped the Cardinal win three Pac-12 titles. But the best part about playing football for Stanford has been the camaraderie and closeness of the locker room.
"I think that's something we have always hung our hats on," he said. "The adversity that we face in everyday life and football. We've gone through so much together. I think that's a big reason we have overcome so many obstacles. Playing for the guy next to you has been huge."