Stanford's junior defensive lineman Solomon Thomas is such an animal lover that he requested a meeting with Ralphie, Colorado's mascot buffalo, before last year's game in Boulder. The request was respectfully denied.
The sight of an opposing player, in uniform, conferring with the buffalo would not have gone over so well.
Cardinal football coach David Shaw had his own encounter with Ralphie as a player that nearly caused a stampede ... of players.
Thomas cannot explain his affinity for animals, he's just drawn to them. Of course, some might suggest he has the spirit of an animal in the way he plays football and in the way he has become the leader of men.
Thomas possesses cat-like reactions, a dogged approach to the game and sometimes he even floats like a butterfly.
The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after recording 12 tackles and forcing a fumble in last week's 17-10 victory over Notre Dame, Thomas hopes to carry the momentum into Saturday's noon game against the visiting Buffaloes, to be aired on the Pac-12 Networks.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Thomas said. “I did a great job of preparation, I was able to take advantage of film study and I tried to play with fantastic effort.”
Stanford (4-2, 2-2 Pac-12) ended a two-game slide with the road victory. This week a victory will avoid a two-game home losing streak.
It won't be easy. Colorado (5-2, 3-1) enters the game tied with Utah at the top of the South Division. Only Washington and Utah have a better overall mark than the Buffaloes and only the Huskies have scored more points.
Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay Jr. is the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a career-high 216 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 40-16 pasting of Arizona State.
As prolific an offense that Colorado ha become, averaging 39 points, the Cardinal has gone in the other direction and currently lives in the basement, averaging 19 points a game.
“In the last two games we have shot ourselves in the foot with fumbles, penalties and missed field goals,” Shaw said. “Those are things we don't do and we don't accept. When we are not doing things that hurt us, we've moved the ball pretty well.”
There's also a first-time starter at quarterback and new starters along the offensive line. It's not like Andrew Luck or Kevin Hogan is out there running the show like they have the previous seven years combined.
Ryan Burns came to Stanford after running the option in high school. The Cardinal offensive philosophy must have seemed like gibberish the first time Burns tried to dissect it.
He's clearly made major strides and continues to play ahead of Palo Alto grad Keller Chryst, who was raised in the pro-style tradition.
Burns played well enough for the Cardinal to beat USC at home and UCLA on the road. There's plenty of talent and smarts in his body to continue to move the team forward. It takes a little experience, a little patience and a lot of guidance.
The offensive line play has been sporadic and the coaching staff continues to work on solutions.
“Sacks happen, guys get beat, the coverage is good,” Shaw said. “But you have to try to keep the quarterback in rhythm and give the pass rusher the long road to the quarterback.”
The Cardinal will likely be without right tackle David Bright, who left last week's game with an injury. Casey Tucker, an experienced lineman, will take his place.
Stanford will be without junior fullback Daniel Marx, one of the premiere blockers in the nation. He missed the final three games a year ago and has appeared in three games this season.
Christian McCaffrey remains a question mark with a lower body injury, though Bryce Love eased doubts after rushing for a career-high 130 yards and getting credit for a touchdown against the Irish that originally went to someone else.
Cornerback Elijah Holder is also questionable, though Quenton Meeks returned to action in a big way, returning an interception for a touchdown that permanently shifted momentum Stanford's way.
“When he returned it, I knew we weren't going to allow them to score again,” Thomas said. “The defense always wants to score and always want to get takeaways. We harp on that every practice.”
Stanford ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in total defense but Colorado leads the conference. The Buffaloes also rank just ahead of the Cardinal in scoring defense, allowing 20 points a game.
Colorado has lost five straight to Stanford, and is winless at Stanford.