Sports

Strong linebacking corps helps Stanford win football games

 

Asked for a description of his Stanford teammate and fellow outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi, Mike Tyler thought for a moment.

"When you first meet Peter, he can come across as a little bit intimidating, and a little bit … I don't know … Pete has a swag about him," Tyler said. "But once you get to know him, he's the nicest person you'll ever meet."


Mike Tyler
Asked about that description, Kalambayi didn't hesitate.

"I'd say that's about right," he said. "Yeah."

Tyler and Kalambayi are part of a Stanford linebacking corps that has proven to be one of the team's greatest strengths in recent years. Alumni include current pros Blake Martinez, Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, and other standouts like A.J. Tarpley, and Chase Thomas.

The tradition of that position is no accident. Team leaders perpetuate the standards by mentoring the young players coming up. Tyler and Kalambayi have both experienced it and benefited, and are passing their wisdom to guys like freshman Curtis Robinson.

"Everything that I did, I tried to be like Trent," said Tyler, a teammate of Murphy's in 2013. "Trent was that figure."

Kalambayi also learned much from Murphy, and still keeps in touch with him through social channels. However, he allows that Murphy, having a career season with the Washington Redskins, "is busy."

Tyler, however, grew especially close to Kevin Anderson, a Palo Alto native who completed his Stanford career last season. Anderson was the host on Tyler's official recruiting trip and became a confidante.

"We had similar evolutions," Tyler said. "We started off undersized and under-strengthed, and worked our way up in the system."

When Anderson was sidelined by injury in 2015, Tyler took up much of the slack. Tyler finished the season with five sacks, 6.5 tackles for losses and was especially effective at the end of the season, against USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game and against Iowa in the Rose Bowl.

"I really think my proudest moments were in those two games," he said.

The transformation from high school to college was great, Tyler said. He starred as a tall (6-foot-5) defensive end for the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Bees in Ohio. "If you Google 'Bees,' there's only one," he says proudly.

As a senior, he set a school record with 18 sacks. He also forced three fumbles and had one fumble recovery.

"It's really funny, my football IQ in high school was very low," Tyler said. "I didn't have too much to worry about.

"Coming here, I remember one of the first days, James Vaughters was telling me, 'In this coverage, you have the No. 3 receiver.' I didn't know the count of receivers. Wait, jersey No. 3? Just the simplest of things anyone coming in should know. My responsibilities on defense were, you either contain on a play or go inside.

"At Stanford, the biggest thing was understanding the coverage responsibilities and how we mesh with the inside 'backers and defensive backs in coverage."

His first two years at Stanford were strictly developmental, especially the conditioning under performance coach Shannon Turley. However, "by the end of my sophomore year, it was all starting to click with the playbook, and I started to open some eyes," Tyler said. "My junior year was the big stepping stone for me to be a leader on this team."

Off the field, one of his biggest interests is scuba diving. His parents, Bill and Sue Tyler, met through friends in the scuba-diving community and Mike was eager to get certified as soon as allowable – at age 10. His family loves to travel to tropical destinations – Hawaii, Florida, the Bahamas – and scuba. Lake Erie, though close to his Cleveland area home, was never much of a destination.

"A little too cold," Tyler said. "No visibility."

Tyler, a management science and engineering major, is interested in a career in computer science or finance, something where he can analyze numbers and data.

Kalambayi, a five-star recruit, grew up in Matthews, South Carolina, also has a penchant with numbers. Among them: 126 tackles, 14.5 sacks and 21.0 tackles for loss in his career, going into the bowl game.

Yes, the intimidation factor certainly is real on the field. But off? Peter is the first U.S.-born child in his immediate family and first to get a degree. He feels strongly about being an example and role model for the younger members of his extended family, especially his 13-year-old sister, Andrea, whom he is very close.

Kalambayi is a communication major and is considering a career as a television reporter for a major news organization. He certainly has an awareness and perspective of the outside world, with a heart for immigration issues. His mother, Liselle Kalambayi, immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1980s, but was unable to secure her U.S. citizenship until nearly two decades later. Peter said they have friends who have been deported.

"It gives you more of a worldly perspective," he said. "You appreciate living in a place like America and the opportunities we have."

This season, Stanford has had at times struggled, but Kalambayi is not deterred.

"I've always felt confident that I can take on pretty much anything," Kalambayi said. "Things get hard, but I'm glad to see I could stay mentally strong through those times, and the team as well."

Players like Kalambayi have provided the example of toughness through adversity, but there's something else outsiders should know about him.

"Peter blows me away in the locker room," Tyler said. "He always jokes around. He always says some stuff that you never expect. He's truly an incredible, really really smart guy. It takes time to get to that layer, but he's really a big softie."

We'll take Tyler at his word.

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