Being named a team captain by a vote of your peers is a really big deal; not only does it show your coaches’ faith in your leadership on and off the field, but more importantly, it shows that teammates respect you enough to be willing to follow you into battle without question, week in and week out.
So without further ado, let’s introduce your Stanford football captains for the 2016-17 season, as elected by their teammates: Johnny Caspers, Peter Kalambayi, Dallas Lloyd, Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas.
The first thing that jumps out about this group is the fact that there are two true juniors in the mix, which is actually unprecedented. A few times in the recent past, a redshirt junior has been elected as a captain (Bo McNally, Andrew Luck, Kevin Hogan) but since Jim Harbaugh revamped the captain system from Walt Harris’ unorthodox approach, McCaffrey and Thomas are the first true juniors to earn the honors.
According to McNally, it used to be the case under Harbaugh that only fourth-year and fifth-year players would appear on the captain ballot, but that Shaw introduced the idea of putting “special” juniors, such as McCaffrey and Thomas, on the ballot. And, well, that idea clearly made a big impact immediately.
McCaffrey’s election comes as no surprise: He was, after all, nominated by his teammates to carry the American flag onto the field before games last season, no small honor. His work ethic and quiet leadership have been publicly lauded by his coaches and peers alike, not to mention the NCAA-record 3,864 yards that he subjected opponents to last season. In terms of performance on and off the field, McCaffrey has set the bar incredibly high.
As noted by former Cardinal offensive lineman Ben Muth on Twitter, the nomination and election of Solomon Thomas is particularly impressive because he’s technically only a redshirt sophomore, meaning that he’s shown his teammates that he deserves to be their leader through only one season of play.
He was one of three Stanford defensive linemen that gutted out an entire season on the front lines without any depth waiting in the wings to spell them, and steadily improved the entire season despite playing out of position as an undersized tackle some of the time (he was recruited as an end). He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors last season with 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, along with the decisive forced fumble of Cody Kessler in the Pac-12 Championship that turned the tide in Stanford’s favor for good.
Caspers was overshadowed last season by the outstanding play and vocal leadership of Josh Garnett, who now plays on Sundays, but throughout the season, David Shaw would rarely fail to mention Caspers in his post-practice media sessions as one of the most respected and underrated veterans of the team. He will be entrusted with being the veteran leader of a new-look offensive line that will break in three new starters.
With Blake Martinez’s graduation, Kalambayi becomes the anchor of the linebacking corps that has been the heart and soul of Stanford’s front seven during Shaw’s tenure. He made 12 tackles at Northwestern in the first start of his career and finished the season with 52 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He’s a man of few words, but he lets his keen instincts and hard hits on the field do his talking – and opponents feel every bit of it.
Finally, Lloyd is the elder statesman of the team, entering his fifth year of eligibility following a two-year Mormon mission out of high school. He didn’t make it as a quarterback after Kevin Hogan emerged as Stanford’s long-term solution, and Stanford’s young defensive backs are better off for it, having had the big-hearted and passionate Lloyd to look up to as a steadying force in the position room last year.