No. 21: "The perfect football player"

It's too good to be true – a tough-nosed player starting at two of the most physical positions in the game, earning a Sports Illustrated feature on his historic feat, writing an ode on his cracked helmet about the beauty inherent in effort to his coach, and being deemed by said coach as "the perfect football player". Yet, for Owen Marecic, hard work paid off.

We continue our ambitious offseason series, counting down the top 40 moments of the Harbaugh/ Shaw era.

No matter how you slice it, Stanford football has arrived. Though we've since assumed all the trappings of a football powerhouse – the three straight runner-up finishes in Heisman voting, the two straight BCS bowl berths and top-10 finishes, the top-ten 2012 recruiting class, or the eminent graduation of top pro prospect of the last decade – it wasn't that long ago that Stanford football was an afterthought.

On December 19, 2006, new athletic director Bob Bowlsby hired Jim Harbaugh, a former star quarterback, but an unproven coach who had never worked at the FBS level. The rest, as they say, was history.

We are pleased present Stanford football's 40 most memorable moments, trends, games and personalities from the magical five-plus years that followed that December 2006 announcement.

21. "The perfect football player"
Owen Marecic makes football purists weep

A two-star unranked middle linebacker out of Portland, Ore., Owen Marecic didn't so much choose Stanford as he did default onto the Farm. His other offers were Army, Yale and Portland State, and for a player with NFL aspirations, you take the BCS school's offer and don't look back.

If recruiters had a time machine, however, all 120 Division I-A schools likely would have offered the future All-American and fourth-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns. Though his functional strength is obviously through the roof, he didn't have incredible athleticism, and still doesn't. (Indeed, his physical limitations showed early in his tenure at linebacker, when Marecic was still learning the position. He'd understandably hit the wrong hole once or twice, and oftentimes it was off to the races because Owen wasn't able to give chase or change direction quickly enough to slow his man.)

But for every 20 athletic freaks who burn out of college ball, there's one Owen Marecic who makes it by maximizing every last ounce of talent with superlative effort, fearlessness and understanding of the game. As a fullback who would spend much of his career protecting the best quarterback in program history, Marecic rarely missed a blitz pickup or assignment. Good luck to the backups, because no coach out there would take Marecic out in that situation – and Jim Harbaugh certainly didn't.

I link to lots of YouTube clips throughout this series, but this is a must-watch. Link. As Marecic is drafted by the Browns, ESPN airs a nearly five-minute retrospective on Marecic and his college career, and it says more about him as a player than any prose could.

Some choice quotes from the piece:

"One of my favorite players in this entire draft." – Todd McShay
"Owen Marecic, you're my favorite player on this team." – attributed to Jim Harbaugh
"My entire time in all of football, I never saw a human being work harder, more invested on any football field than Owen Marecic." – Super Bowl winner Trent Dilfer
"He can run for days. You could put him out in the wilderness somewhere and he'd be running around, catching animals." – Andrew Luck
"I just look at Owen as the football player I wish I could have been." –Harbaugh

That language, though certainly complimentary, doesn't hold a candle to the prose in "The Perfect Player". To this day, Stanford alum Kelli Anderson's SI piece is one of the most gushing pieces of journalism I've encountered. Link. In the feature, we learn that Marecic has a 3.89 in human biology and is interested in flu outbreaks, that Jim Harbaugh calls him "the perfect football player" and adds that Vince Lombardi would be proud of the two-way star. His teammates call Marecic "the Wisest" and look forward to his profound pregame speeches.

That's all prelude to two of the final paragraphs of Anderson's story:

"Harbaugh is so taken with Marecic that the coach recently wrote a 900-word prepping-for-battle tribute to him—peppered with quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ernest Hemingway—and read it to the team before the first day of practice. A sample passage: ‘Now is the time to think of only one thing, that which I was born for. The thousand times that I've proved it meant nothing. Now I am proving it again.'

"In his office Harbaugh keeps one of the several helmets Marecic has cracked while at Stanford. At Harbaugh's request Marecic signed the helmet, along with words he lives by: TODAY GIVE ALL THAT YOU HAVE, FOR WHAT YOU KEEP INSIDE YOU LOSE FOREVER."

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Ironically, and largely because of Owen Marecic's efforts, Stanford football is now recruiting at a level such that, were Owen Marecic just playing his senior year of high school football this season, Stanford probably wouldn't offer. (After all, the Cardinal did not sign a single two-star recruit in their 2012 class, and don't figure to in their smaller 2013 class either.) It's beyond fortunate, therefore, that Marecic entered college right as Stanford exited the Dark Ages. For, despite all the great players who overlapped with Owen, and all the great players to come, the Cardinal may never have another one quite like him.

50-41. More memorable moments - Loukas, Luck, and a phantom clipping call
40. Fake out - Luck stuns UW with a naked bootleg in 2010
39. Polls and bowls - Stanford climbs into college football's beauty contests
38. Steamrolled - Card run for 446 yards in 2011 beatdown of UW
37. Opening act - 2009 win over Ducks launches a November to remember
36. Going bowling - Loss to Sooners doesn't ruin first bowl game since 2001
35. "Shut up and play football" - Cal jaws pregame, falls behind 45-0 in 2010
34. Look ma, no legs - Luck throws a 52- yard dart while in free fall
33. Sit down - Burfict's head leads to go- ahead TD, Wilkerson's ices W at ASU
32. Injury bug - Despite multiple injuries, 2011 Card manage to rally
31. Whale watching - Stanford starts recruiting at an elite level
30. Suck for Luck - The media machine anoints the next football savior
29. Outta my way - Luck bounces off Cattouse for a 50-yard run
28. 0 for 3 - Card post three shutouts in 2010 campaign
27. Laying the wood - Luck lays out Wright
26. Concussed - Owusu is knocked out of four games
25. Jumping ahead - A 21-3 lead vanishes in Autzen in 2010
24. So close, yet so far - Luck's worst game costs Card 2009 Big Game
23. Run, Toby, run - Gerhart takes over against the Irish
22. Xs and Os… and Ys and Zs - Stanford toys with defensive coordinators

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