In a May 29 article, we released the 30 finalists for The Bootleg Honor Roll award for the 2008/2009 school-year.
The criteria are as follows:
Each academic year, The Bootleg's Honor Roll will recognize the top ten Stanford student-athletes who have performed at an exceptional level, with athletic accomplishments that are both extraordinary and inspirational. While achieving athletic success, these athletes should also have displayed uncommon leadership, sportsmanship and respect towards their fellow teammates and opponents. Finally, these honorees' performances and actions should also demonstrate their love for their particular sport as well as their school pride, the famed "Spirit of Stanford."
During the months of June and July, we are releasing the 10 winners of this prestigious award, one by one. The Bootleg has previously announced swimmer Julia Smit, volleyball's Cynthia Barboza and Foluke Akinradewo, gymnastics' Sho Nakamori, basketball's Jayne Appel, distance runner Chris Derrick and baseball's Drew Storen as 2008/09 Honor Roll winners. Our eighth announced member of The Bootleg's 2007-08 Honor Roll is football and baseball star Toby Gerhart.
We never thought it possible for the unquestioned MVP of Stanford's most visible squad, and a school record breaker at that, to fly somewhat under the radar. Then again, if Toby Gerhart has a senior season anything like his junior year, he might not be under the local – or national – radar much longer.
On the football turf, Gerhart is the embodiment of the mentality Jim Harbaugh's trying to instill in the Stanford program: not flashy, not the lead clip on SportsCenter, but solid fundamentally and as tough as they come. Gerhart's not a bounce it out, Barry Sanders-type runner. He's more likely to turn two-yard gains into five, more likely to run through a tackler than around him. He's not a showy player, and lacks for a dramatic backstory.
He's played behind a great offensive line last year, and not-so-great lines the two seasons before. He's played for multiple head coaches, multiple offensive line coaches. He's All Pac-10 --- at the school with the world's first and only marketing department suffering from social phobia. Throughout it all, Gerhart has been steady as a rock.
This offseason, the discussion has centered not on his accomplishments or value to the team, but whether he'd return or not. In the NFL, running backs are quickly becoming an expendable property, and at Stanford too, the last two recruiting classes have been no deeper anywhere than at running back. Nationally, the first association with Stanford football is its resurgence under Coach Harbaugh, and the player most emblematic of that potential is Andrew Luck, a quarterback who's never played a down for the Cardinal.
Undeterred, Gerhart simply lowered his shoulders last year and did what he does best -- he ran. By season's end, Stanford has rushed on 63 percent of its offensive plays, a statistical anomaly compared to the rest of the NCAA. The Card's tendencies, in conjunction with a poor passing attack, meant that Gerhart was regularly facing eight or nine men in the box. It didn't matter.
Gerhart finished the season with a school-record 1,136 yards on 210 carries, and scored a team-high 15 touchdowns – more than the Card passed for the entire season. With Gerhart leading the way, the Card averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2008, lightyears above previous season's efforts and solidly better than the NCAA average of approximately four yards per carry. Stanford was legitimately one of the best two or three teams in the conference on the ground (with, say, USC and Oregon), and while a line anchored by fifth-year senior and All Pac-10 center Alex Fletcher deserves much of the credit, Gerhart and his phenomenal 5.4 average is as responsible as anyone.
In baseball, Gerhart's trend the last two years has been to start slowly (understandable, given the recovery a whole season of football requires, plus all the fall baseball he missed), but then come on strong as his natural athleticism takes over. His statistics hint at his potential should he focus full-time on baseball as a professional: a respectable .288 average, seven homers (third on the team), 36 RBI (T-third), 28 walks (second) and .475 slugging (third). Keep in mind that the aforementioned annual horrific start and 46 strikeouts (which hint at a mechanics problem more practice time could solve) were depressing those statistics and you have the makings of a true five-tool player. Furthermore, Gerhart's perfect 7-of-7 on stolen bases is nice, but his most impressive statistic is this one: after a full season of football, he played in all 55 of the team's games and started all but two.
If Stanford football, or, for that matter, Stanford baseball, hopes to reach the postseason in the year ahead, they better hope Toby Gerhart continues to be as consistent as he's been through three years on the Farm.
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