Football, flags and being cool; Stanford just wants to play the game


In football this fall, protests during the national anthem have become bigger stories than games themselves.

Two former Stanford players, Seattle Seahawks' Doug Baldwin and Miami Dolphins' Michael Thomas, have been at the forefront in this area. Baldwin led the Seahawks' unified arm-locking stance, and Thomas has knelt in protest while holding his hand over his heart in respect.

Conrad Ukropina
At Stanford games, both teams are off the field during the anthem. But David Shaw, Stanford's Director of Football, addressed the subject at his Tuesday press conference in advance of Saturday's game against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

"I love our anthem," said Shaw, whose father, Willie, was an Air Force sergeant who served in Vietnam. "I love our flag, I love what it stands for. I love the history of our flag and our anthem.

"I've told our guys, 'If you want to stand for something, understand the history of it and be able to defend your position.' As much as I love this country and our military, and I think we need to support our police officers every way we can, I'm also one of the people who sit here and say, we can make things better than they have been.

"That's the great thing about our country and our Constitution. It never was meant to be set in stone, it was meant to be adjusted and grow as our country grows. I understand if there are things that people want to have changed, and I'm all for it. We need to be better to each other.

"We need to support our police officers. The biggest thing we need for them are: We need them to protect us, and we need them to get home safely. That's the mantra we need to take.

"For those people who just want to complain, that does nothing for me. But for those people who say, 'Hey, let's make this country better,' I think that's on all of us as American citizens."

The kicking game

Kicker Conrad Ukropina has been so dependable and deadly accurate -- his 80 consecutive successful extra-point tries are a Stanford record -- that it's natural to wonder what his limits are.

Holder Dallas Lloyd insists that Ukropina made a 60-yarder while they were vacationing together in Hawaii. Ukropina said he hit from that distance in practice under the eyes of special teams coordinator Pete Alamar.

"If I didn't see it, it didn't happen," Shaw said.

However, "He's been really good from the mid-50's. With the game on the line, I don't mind stretching that, because he's a gamer."

Ukropina, whose career-long is 52, isn't picky.

"I don't really have a range," he said. "Wherever the ball is, I'll go out and kick it. I'll kick it as far and as straight as I can."

Ukropina is co-terming, meaning he will earn his master's in communication in one year. Ukropina has embraced the use of virtual reality and has been fascinating with the technology.

His master's thesis involves building empathy and awareness of the plight of the homeless through virtual reality. By the time he's done, 1,000 volunteers to the project will wear the Oculus Rift headset in San Francisco while chronicling the different stages of homelessness. The idea is to give the virtual reality viewer a different perspective on homelessness that somehow makes it appear more real.

"It's basically seeing how we can take virtual reality to raise awareness by putting you in situations that you wouldn't be able to go into in real life," Ukropina said.

No style points

One of the oddest trends in college football is a player dropping the ball just before reaching the goal line on a long play.

The past two weeks, it happened to Cal on a late fourth-quarter run against Texas, on a Clemson punt return against Troy, and on an Oklahoma kickoff return against Ohio State. The latter was the only of the three not reversed by instant replay, though it should have been.

"I don't understand it, personally," Shaw said. "I don't think anybody that's coached anybody who's dropped the ball understands it either."

And don't worry about Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, the reigning national AP Player of the Year. He has no plans for a 'drop' of his own.

"I have the same opinion as you do: What are you doing?" McCaffrey said. "Finish through the end zone with the ball in your hands."

Is there a 'coolness' factor behind the drops?

McCaffrey says no.

"I don't think that's a thing," McCaffrey said. "A lot of guys get too excited before they actually get into the end zone."

Kori Shaw, Coach Shaw's wife, is none too happy about it either.

"The biggest pet peeve she has is guys who celebrate before they cross the goal line," Shaw said. "If she can't handle it or understand it, it drives her insane. So, when I go home, I like to have a peaceful, restful night. The best way that's going to happen is if our guys cross the goal line and hand the ball to the official."

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