Stanford has been a household name in college football for a long time.
If you’re a top prospect and academics are a high priority for you, Stanford is something you strive for.
For defensive line signee Thomas Schaffer, he didn’t know much about Stanford…because he grew up in Austria.
“I knew LSU, Alabama and Oregon just because those were the teams we knew in Austria.”
Schaffer’s first introduction to Stanford was playing the “NCAA Football” video game. He played a “mascot game’ and tried his hand as a tree.
The college football craze is infused in American culture, but Austrians also have a love for the sport. Schaffer said the country has close to 50 club teams and the Super Bowl is watched by many despite it kicking off at 1 a.m..
“It’s grown a lot. (Football) is covered by media and newspapers, they want to talk about my story,” Schaffer said. “Back then, it was just local (media). Now, I get national newspapers.”
Schaffer got his first glimpse of American football when he played for the Austrian national team as a teenager. As the youngest player on the team, he was physically dominated by the bigger, stronger opponents. Despite his struggles, he knew he wanted to pursue football.
His sophomore year of high school, he moved to America and enrolled at Lake Forest Academy in Illinois. Schaffer said his build, a cool 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, and his ability to stick out as a “nasty” competitor made him a force on the field.
But he had to make some adjustments.
“Adjusting to the speed and the athleticism that the game is being played here. I think that back in Austria we have big guys, but they don’t focus so much on speed,” Schaffer said. “We have a couple receivers and people that are really speed guys, but we don’t have overall speed. When I came here, it was just a different speed for me.”
And it wasn’t only on the field where Schaffer had to adjust. The teenager who enjoys Rubik’s cubes and playing his ukulele had to face being away from his family. He also battled a significant language barrier despite speaking English for multiple years in Austria.
“That was hard not being able to communicate with many people. My friend and I would… have a talk and I would look up on my iPhone in dictionary like every other word,” Schaffer said. “It changed so much, going from not speaking for like 10 minutes straight to writing essays, research papers, like it’s my first language. It’s been great for me.”
When he was still in Austria, Schaffer tried to find American players that fit his size. Thanks to some YouTube clips, he found that Stanford’s Henry Anderson, Josh Mauro and Trent Murphy fit the bill. Studying their film helped him develop his pass-rushing skills.
“These guys have been very much role models for me even before I was involved in Stanford. When I look up guys, I was looking up guys I could identify with and Henry came up, Trent Murphy came up, Josh Mauro came up,” Schaffer said. “Those guys are playing in the NFL now and they are being solid on their team.”
After committing to Stanford, that common bond with past Cardinal stars is helping him prepare for life on The Farm. Schaffer may have had a different upbringing when it comes to football, but the defensive star and Austrian gridiron ambassador is on the same page with his teammates.
“All the guys that are there are like me, they are hard competitors. They want to get better in the academic aspect whereas in other places, some places don’t care about their academic status, they just want to play football,” Schaffer said. “That is something you don’t do at Stanford. It is a very special place.”
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