Throughout the past several weeks, The Bootleg has examined several of the ingredients that form the "secret sauce" that has propelled Stanford football to unprecedented heights. A recent discussion with a quartet of the team's graduating walk-on players shone light on a vital component: the program's harmonious inner culture. Locker room disagreements are extremely rare, and integration of scholarship and walk-on players is seamless. This classlessness has led to a culture of respect that has helped foster the cohesion necessary to produce championship-level football.
The roots of this culture can be found in the behavior of Stanford's leadership. Aside from recruiting personality types who embody the program's inclusive, businesslike mentality, the Cardinal's coaching staff leads by example when it comes to the application of its core ingredient: attention to detail.
Walk-on Cason Kynes learned about the program's attention to detail firsthand when he tore his ACL just a few weeks into his Stanford career. His injury came in early 2011, about when the highest profile Cardinal linebacker also shredded his knee.
"During the rehab process for my knee, [sports performance coordinator] Shannon Turley would make a special card for me," Kynes said. "He put the same effort into my rehab process as he did into Shayne Skov's."
Kynes believes that Stanford's intense attention to his rehabilitation encapsulates a significantly unique aspect about the program. Instead of brushing aside a walk-on's injury, the Cardinal brass made it a priority. Armed with this mentality, this program's performance has reached new heights.
The Farm Boys are likely to enter this upcoming 2013 season ranked in the preseason top five. And while reasons for the team's meteoric surge are certainly plentiful, every examination of the rise eventually circles back to the work of a pair of individuals.
"You can probably tell that we're huge Andrew Luck and Shannon Turley fans," graduated receiver Sam Knapp smiled after a lengthy interview on the subject.
Knapp, Kynes, Brent Etiz, and Andrew Stutz had just finished discussing their impressions of Stanford's ascent for over an hour. At every single turn of the conversation, Luck's name surfaced. (He's emblematic of the personality type that has been the bedrock of the program's success, and that's explained in Part One.) Turley's name inevitably followed suit. That's because he's the driving machine of the physical, attentive formula with which players like Luck have meshed so well.
"At first, you hate the small details that Turley makes you focus on," Etiz said. "But as you get older and you grow and mature, you realize that it was all out of consideration for you as a player. He takes a special interest in every one of his players. He wants to see you maximize your potential and stay safe in the process."
Stanford's injury rates have plummeted in recent years, and The Bootleg has documented this phenomenon over the past months. All the while, the team's success on the field has been spearheaded by players who have, indeed, maximized potential. From the incoming five-star recruits (see Luck), to the two-stars (see Ben Gardner), to the walk-ons (see Ryan Whalen), the Cardinal has found the formula to milk as much production as possible out of the talent that has stepped foot onto The Farm, regardless of its incoming rating.
Ultimately, this successful player development has been the golden key for Stanford football. Today, yet another round is underway.
Summer Training: The Most Malleable Stage
"When Turley sees who comes in, and he sees someone who looks like they've been working out a lot, he really wants to break them down," Knapp said. " He wants to get them on his workout plan."
That's where Stanford football is right now. The 2013 summer training session, commonly known to players as the least pleasant phase of the year, started Monday. Reinforcements have arrived: Stanford freshmen are now college football players for the first time, and the opportunity is ripe to transform them into gridiron warriors of the Cardinal mold. Etiz vividly remembers how essential these early days are in the context of Turley's larger goals.
"It's all business. He's going to tell the team, 'We're going to settle for nothing less than perfection,'" he explained. "Because in our first days with [Turley], that's when we were at our most vulnerable. That's when we were at our most malleable stage, when we could be formed into players who wouldn't be complacent, and would always be at our best."
One of the vital assets Stanford coaches will instill into the team during this summer training phase is self-dependency, a virtue players credit for the Cardinal's recent success in close games (and something they hail as the determining factor in the Farm Boys' 56-48 triple overtime victory at USC in 2011).
"The coaches can only do so much," Etiz said of the program's philosophy. "The team has to win the game."
A rigorous team tug-of-war is one of the activities designed to instill this self-dependency. Players say that coaches deliberately take a back seat during this muscle-searing work. They passively watch as players learn to motivate each other throughout exhaustion and the seemingly impossible challenge of wrestling a gigantic rope away from a group of burly teammates.
"The coaches lay back, and your teammates hold you accountable the whole time," Kynes said. "We were down there grinding, and Turley was just watching. It was just us. At the end of the day, we have to make it happen and keep each other accountable."
Avoiding Entitlement: No Compromises
Over this summer, Turley is also expected to leave several "Performance News" pamphlets in players' lockers, each of which focuses on a different theme. Finishing, Teamwork, and Accountability are among themes of past pamphlets, each of which feature a story and a lesson Stanford football players are expected to translate into their practice mindset.
Quizzes accompany this process, one populated with Vince Lombardi quotes and a constant reminder of exactly how far away opening day is.
"It sets a mentality," Knapp said. "It sets an atmosphere."
Judging by past years, this maniacal attention to detail that is being re-ingrained (and, in the freshmen's case, introduced for the first time) into Stanford football's psyche should translate onto the field during a pressure-packed 2013 campaign, one filled with BCS title aspirations on The Farm.
"We don't make compromises," Turley is expected to say, and he's expected to say it often.
Those words will be heard during exhausting spring conditioning "gasser" sprint sets laden with small rules designed to sharpen Stanford football's mental approach: On the second and fourth reps, for example, Stanford players will only be able to cross the finish line with their left foot.
"Everyone has to do it exactly the same way, or else we have to start over," Kynes said. "Something really small, he won't let us get away with that. There's an incredible attention to mental detail, to consistency. If there's anybody I would trust to prevent Stanford football players from developing a sense of entitlement, Turley is going to be that guy."
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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