We Walk #2: OL Conor McFadden [#61]

If you ever wonder if an epic road performance by the Stanford football team can influence a prospective student-athlete, we offer the compelling story of freshman walk-on center Conor McFadden! Read on to hear how Coach Harbaugh put his coaching future on the line to assure a young man of the strength of his academic profile! Yet another impressive young Cardinal to root for in 2010 and beyond!

We Walk #2: OL Conor McFadden [#61]

The Bootleg presents Episode #2 in our  "We Walk" series profiling Stanford's high-caliber 2010 walk-ons, focusing our attention this time on true freshman offensive lineman and, at least for now, center Conor McFadden (#61), an AP Second Team All-State lineman from St. Thomas Academy in West St. Paul, Minnesota.

Conor McFadden had a big decision to make.


As one of the top-rated prospects for several Ivy League schools, McFadden would have had a good chance to play early and often at a solid, but lower-profile football program, like Princeton.


Alternatively, the St. Thomas Academy graduate had the option of entering the Stanford Football program as a walk-on and working his way up a steep depth chart.


Ultimately, when it came time to make a college choice, McFadden picked the more challenging option. Why? We'll let the 6-3, 265-pound offensive lineman explain.


"I'm a person that has always believed that there are two ways to go through life," McFadden said. "There is the easy way and then there's the hard way. For me, the right way is the hard way. I really look forward to pushing myself in all aspects of my life."


So far, the Minnesota native is doing just that.


"Training camp is very intense, but I feel myself getting better every day and that's such a cool feeling," he said. "It pushes me farther than I've ever been pushed before. You never know your limits until you've been pushed and I think that's been a really great experience for me at this young age."


After working at guard for the first few days of training camp, McFadden was moved to center by the coaches. Although the center position encompasses a great deal of responsibility, McFadden was thrilled to make the switch.


"I really like it," he said. "It's a lot of work, took a lot of studying, and I made a lot of mistakes the first few days because you have to make all the line calls, you have to put everyone in the right position. But I really like being in the middle of all that action and I feel comfortable."


Working with NFL alumnus Steve Wisniewski and Stanford offensive line coaches Greg Roman and Tim Drevno has helped to ease McFadden's transition.


"You'd be hard-pressed to find better offensive line coaches anywhere," McFadden said.  "These guys truly know what it takes. They all expect a ton, but they'll teach you how to do it and then your job is to go out there and be physical and do what they are saying. Go out there and hit somebody in the mouth, because that's what we do here. We play tough, clean football."


But when McFadden first sized up his college future, he was more focused on playing for an Ivy League school than a BCS conference program.


"I was already pretty much set on the Ivy leagues," McFadden said. "I didn't really care about playing Division I football."


McFadden's father, Michael, had different ideas.


"My dad decided to make a call [to Stanford] just to make sure they got my tape," McFadden said. "He's always thought I should keep my options open. He called and it turned out [the coaches] had never seen it, even though I had sent it in. They watched it and were like ‘Oh, wow, he can play here!'"


Although Stanford had filled its quota for scholarship linemen in the 2010 class, the Cardinal offered McFadden an opportunity to walk on and potentially earn a scholarship.


But McFadden wasn't instantly sold on Stanford. He was concerned about what life would be like entering a BCS program as a walk- on.


"I was still hesitant," McFadden said. "Being a walk-on is saying you have a tougher road that you're going up."


Nevertheless, McFadden agreed to take an official visit to The Farm to be sure his fears were justified. As it turned out, numerous other aspects of the Stanford experience overwhelmed any anxieties he might have harbored. 


"I came out here on the visit and I fell in love with the school." McFadden said. "Really it was the interaction between the Stanford athletes and the Stanford regular students which was unbelievable to me because when I went on my Ivy League visits, the one thing that bugged me was that it seemed like there was a division of the regular students from the athletes. Here, it's just so integrated, you look around and they truly believe in great athletics and great academics. They're so open and so welcoming."


Set on Stanford, McFadden was thrown a late curveball when Notre Dame tried to get in the mix for his services.


And although he respected Stanford growing up, (McFadden thought Stanford was "a magical place on the West Coast") McFadden was a Fighting Irish fan as a child.


"My grandfather's family is an Notre Dame family and I grew up watching Notre Dame," McFadden said.


So when the Irish came calling, McFadden had to re-evaluate his decision.


"I actually had an opportunity probably to walk on at Notre Dame and that was something late in the process with Stanford," McFadden said.

"I looked at myself in the eye, and the type of football they play here and the environment they have here... I made an honest decision that I wanted to go to Stanford. That was a huge shift for me."


Watching Stanford's smash-mouth offensive attack drop 55 points on a highly regarded program like USC helped convince McFadden that Palo Alto was the right place for him to continue his football career.


"I had always admired Stanford. The game ultimately that sold me was the USC game. You can watch it over and over, and you can tell there are special type of guys that are on that team."


With his mind made up, there was still one hurdle to overcome before McFadden could finalize his commitment to the Cardinal: the Stanford admissions process.


An early commit to Princeton, McFadden had only applied and been accepted to one school - Princeton. So when he changed his mind about playing in the Ivy League, McFadden would have been in a difficult situation if he didn't get into Stanford,


"If I didn't get in here, 'Conor doesn't have a horse to ride'," McFadden said.


Never one to be overconfident (McFadden called his near-perfect score of 35 on the ACT "lucky") the offensive lineman was worried about his admissions chances.


A phone call to Coach Harbaugh put McFadden's mind at ease.


 "I was like 'Coach, I need to know this' and he goes, ‘Conor, if you do not get admitted, I'll retire on the spot as the Stanford Football coach,' " McFadden said. "I believed him and I did, and there were no problems with that."


A few weeks into his Cardinal career, there is no way to know for sure whether McFadden made the right choice in coming to Stanford. It does seem apparent, though, that McFadden's decision to play FBS/BCS football for the Cardinal is in line with the goals he hopes to achieve in his college career.


"What I want mostly is when I finally hang up those pads, I want to look myself in the eye and just smile and say I had a blast and I became what I wanted to be," McFadden said. "I became the football player I dreamed of and no matter how the cards fall, I hope that's what happens."

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