Two veteran players will not be on the roster this spring, though one may still return for the fall. Fourth-year receiver Nick Sebes has ended his football career and will spend the spring and next year exclusively running track. The redshirt junior from Pennsylvania was a strong performer in preseason camp this past fall, but he was kept on the sidelines with alarming regularity when Saturdays came around. He scarcely ever went on the field on offense, and disappointly he recorded no receptions on the season. Sebes was a productive part of special teams, leading the squad in returns (19) and yardage (420).
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Michael Craven is also off the roster, but not by his choice. His tumultuous college career has taken yet another turn, and the latest is that he is not enrolled in school this spring. He would have been at the top of the depth chart at the weakside linebacker position but instead is uncertain of his Stanford future. There is a decent chance he could be back in school in the fall, but predicting the ebb and flow of Craven's playing and academic career is harder than filling out a perfect NCAA bracket this time of year.
Most recently, Gerren Crochet hurt his hamstring and is unavailable for at least the first couple weeks of spring ball. I wouldn't be surprised if he is gone for all of April, given how tough it is for speed athletes to come back from nagging hamstring injuries, like this case. His time would already have been limited somewhat by track commitments, but this is a disappointing loss to a thin receiving corps.
Another recent injury struck on offense, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Kyle Matter hurting his shoulder during some intramural basketball. He has already undergone repair surgery and is lost for the spring. The bad news is that Matter misses the key repetitions at a time when he is vying for the starting job, as one of the top two guys on the QB depth chart. The good news is that the shoulder (throwing arm) should come out of this surgery and rehab stronger than it was before. Matter has had some degree of weakness in that shoulder dating back to a high school injury, and things should be "tighter" in his shoulder now than before. He should be fully recovered in time for summer workouts with the team, and it would be a genuine silver lining if he showed improved arm strength in August camp. That, after all, has been the one knock on him during his Stanford career.
Put down the razor blades; there is some good news to be had in Cardinal country.
At the fullback position, Emeka Nnoli should finally be engaged in contact drills this spring for the first time at Stanford. He arrived with a lot of promise and hoopla last August, but was never medically cleared. He has a blood disorder that has required medication and treatment, but that process during the fall left him in no condition for contact. Fortunately the freshman fullback responded well to medication and was cleared between the fall and winter quarters. He fully participated in the team's off-season workouts during the winter and will be in the thick of the starting job battle this spring. Coaches and teammates are just as anxious as fans to see what the All-American prep can do on the turf. The position is wide open, with Nnoli and redshirt sophomore Kris Bonifas the top two in contention for the starting job.
A fellow frosh in the offensive backfield who had some physical struggles last fall was tailback David Marrero, who wrestled with a knee problem from September through November. The 5'10" burner has three muscles (and connecting tendons) to his knee where 99.7% of people have just two. For most people, this is a non-issue, but for a developed athlete like Marrero the two outer muscles are enlarged to the point that they constrict the extra muscle. The result was a weekly battle of inflammation and pain, which left both the player and coaches uncertain of his daily condition. The good news is that Marrero is on the mend, in thanks to rest and rehabilitation. The freshman tailback now feels as good as any time since last August, but stronger and faster. He ran a 4.39 in the 40 when the team tested at the end of the winter quarter, second only to T.J. Rushing (4.32). He also ran a 4.03 shuttle and recorded a 34" vertical.
"The knee feels good so far," Marrero offers. "We'll see after the first few days of practice how effective everything is. I have no reason to believe it won't be near 100%, though."
Another successful rehab story in the winter transpired with redshirt freshman quarterback Trent Edwards. He suffered a quadricep hemotoma late in the Big Game last November when he was speared by a Cal player after a throw. The subsequent emergency room surgery that night and in following weeks left him with 29 stitches on his left thigh, and a pair of crutches to move around. He was off the crutches in December but was not fully cleared for quarterbacking on-field activities until the middle of winter quarter. His rehabilitation is still a work in progress, but he was pleased to squat 275 pounds 10 times at the end of the quarter.
"I'm not as nimble and agile as before," Edwards explains of his physical status. "I need to get all those little muscles back, to help me move around in the pocket and use my feet well. But I've come a long way and feel great."
For kicker Michael Sgroi, his problem the last couple years has been his back, which forced him to wear a hard brace around his torso 24x7 last summer to immobilize his back. A specialist in Detroit earlier in the summer had found a fracture in a vertebrae which was causing him pain as he kicked. The immobilization helped heal his back and had him feeling as good that August as he had felt in a long time, but doctors still warned him that the healing was not done. One even advised that Sgroi take the year off to finish the vertebrae healing.
"At that point, I was like 'Whoah - time for a second opinion.' Another doc said I could play that fall, but needed to gradually work my way back into the kicking load."
The season Sgroi had was a serious disappointment, with just three made field goals in the final nine games of the year. He had field goals and PATs blocked, and his consistency at distance inspired zero confidence in the coaching staff. The problem was still his back, which held up but did not allow him to the strength or confidence to strike the ball well. While Sgroi and the team would have liked to play after November, the rest he gave himself in December was a godsend for his back. He kicked three times a week during the winter, building back consistency and confidence, as well as chemistry with snapper Jon Cochran and holder Kyle Matter.
"I'm finally swinging away without thinking about my back for the first time at Stanford," Sgroi says with an uncontrollable smile. Late in the quarter he was hitting everything inside 40 yards like clockwork, and plenty from long distance.
Enough of the injury talk, you say?
The juiciest part of spring football for fans is of course the reshuffling of the depth chart. Players will rise and fall at many positions over the next four weeks, but the Wednesday's practice will show us the most revealing look as several athletes make debuts at new positions. Here are some of the prominent moves:
- Redshirt freshman David Lofton has bounced back once again to where he started. After moving himself last April from to wide receiver, he met with the offensive coaches this January and asked for another shot at quarterback. They are giving him his wish, though the pressure is on to produce. "We have told David that he is one of the very best athletes on this team, and we cannot afford to have him on the sideline," says head coach Buddy Teevens. Translation: Lofton has an open audition for an open quarterback job, but he needs to prove that he can be one of the top performing signal callers for this team. If not, Lofton will move back to receiver for the fall.
- With Luke Powell graduated, Nick Sebes finished with football, Gerren Crochet injured and David Lofton slinging, the receiving corps is frightfully thin all of a sudden. To help out the weakening wideout depth, Marcus McCutcheon is making the move from defense. The redshirt freshman recognizes the dearth of playing time available currently behind NFL-bound Oshiomogho Atogwe, while the receiving group is ripe with opportunity. With the healthy participants available, McCutcheon immediately finds himself in the three-deep before he takes his first repetition.
- On the offensive line, look for Jeff Edwards to start the spring at right tackle, rather than the left tackle spot where many of us (me included) thought he would be this spring. His move from right guard paves the way for David Beall to flip over there from the left guard position. Josiah Vinson will move inside from right guard to center and probably take the lead at that spot while Brian Head sits out contact drills this spring. You may remember that Head tore his ACL and MCL last fall and had repair surgery. Mike Macellari is the new face on the offensive line after making the switch this winter from defensive tackle, and you can pencil him in at left tackle. But all of this may change by next week, as offensive line coach Steve Morton juggles personnel while he assesses them at these positions.
- Matt McClernan is the other half of the OT-DT swap that brought Macellari over to offense. The redshirt freshman will take his quick feet and driving motor to Dave Tipton's defensive tackle crew.
- The linebacking corps will miss Michael Craven this spring, but don't expect to see any new faces at the "Will" OLB position. If there is any of the three linebacker spots that need help, it is the "Mike" linebacker, where two fifth-year seniors have graduated. Look for freshman Landon Johnson and redshirt freshman Mike Silva to help supply depth and competition behind David Bergeron in the middle.
- One last area to patch up is the safety depth now that Marcus McCutcheon has moved to offense. There could be a good amount of juggling still to come, but for now I expect Nick Sanchez and/or Calvin Armstrong to slide over to free safety from the cornerback group.
More moves will come for sure during the 15 practices this spring, but this should get you on the right page for the first day of action. To keep track of all dates and times for the next four weeks of exciting action check out the 2004 Spring Football Schedule.
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