The anticipation of this new albeit young defense was one of mixed excitement and trepidation. We thought they could play, but had nothing of material gameday evidence to back those premonitions. Then Leigh Torrence raced across the field in the second quarter of the season opener at Boston College and snagged a Brian St. Pierre pass out of the air, followed by a memorable scramble for a thirty-yard return. The Stanford 10-7 lead is opened up to 17-7 just two plays later. The cornerback who was too young to know that he was too young made an early statement. And through two games Torrence has recorded two picks, a pass break-up and seven tackles.
Leigh does not spend much time patting himself on the back, and merely offers a brief comment on his play thus far: "I felt good." Instead, he excitedly talks about the new scheme that has been installed for the defense and secondary, along with its timing. "I love everything about it," raves Torrence. "We have a lot of guys coming into their first signficant playing time, and the new scheme is a perfect match. It would have been difficult to implement this with veterans. Now, it all just comes down to execution."
When Torrence talks about execution, he is mindful of his current shortcomings, where he and his secondary mates still need to improve. As aggressive as you may think this defense plays today, Leigh feels they are not yet playing aggressive enough. They need to be in the right spot at the right moment every time. And in his words, the end goal is to "take away everything." Until then, there will still be some shaking heads when Leigh or his teammates allow that one pass completion.
Taking away everything will be one heck of a challenge for Leigh Torrence and this Stanford secondary, given the high powered offenses they are staring at in these remaining nine games. The Pac-10 looks as stacked as at any time in the 25-year history of the expanded conference, and the aerial assaults will be relentless. While Cardinalmaniacs™ manifest a nervous twitch when thinking about what lay ahead, Leigh Torrence just gets a big grin on his face. "This is a passing conference, and you bet I'm looking forward to that," the redshirt sophomore confidently states.
To be ready for that challenge, Torrence looks to his position coach and co-defensive coordinator, Mark Banker. Banker has brought a revolutionary style and aggressiveness to Stanford's secondary, and the kids just love it. "He has been great," says Torrence about Banker. "We talk as a secondary about it, and he is the best thing that could have happened to us. He knows the game. He is a player's coach. And he is going to get the most out of us. Plus he has been to the NFL and knows what it takes at that level."
But Leigh didn't get his rightful chance prior to Banker, even when it was clear to many observers from year number one that Leigh was a special cover man and playmaker who deserved and demanded time on the field. "I was always a little frustrated," says Torrence about his time on the pine last year, "being on the sidelines, wanting to be out there more - playing and developing. But fortunately now the coaches have the mindset to player whoever is the most fresh. Right now I am thankful of the opportunity to make the most of it."
More than just a player, Leigh takes a leadership position within this secondary and this team. For example, leading up to the San Jose State game, Torrence was very mindful of the danger of the opponent, having seen what led to a loss his redshirt year at Stanford and what led to a win this past year. "The game is just like Cal, minus some of the hype - minus the Axe," said Torrence before last weekend's battle with the Spartans. "I don't think we can ever take them lightly. I personally have not lost to them, and we have mostly young guys on defense that want to keep that tradition."
Torrence also waxes philosophical about the effort needed against San Jose State, in a delivery you would expect from a coach, rather than a young corner back:
"You have to treat this like any other game, and every game should be played like it's your last. Our time is now because we are playing now, and we have to approach this year just like the 5th year guys approached last year. No matter which year you are, your time is still limited to play college football, so you have to take advantage of every play. I don't want to look back when I am done with any regrets."
Well said, Leigh. And with the early returns on his play, it is hard to imagine that Leigh, his teammates, his coaches or Stanford fans will be able to look back on his career with any regrets.