Shaw: Stanford’s renaissance has only just begun

As David Shaw addressed his Stanford players for the final time

this season, a sense of sadness started to circulate around the

room.

No more games. No more trophy celebrations. No more upsets,

comebacks or any of the other thrilling moments that took place

during the most sensational season in 40 years on The Farm.

”It was almost like, `Gosh, we want to play another game,”’

Shaw said. ”These guys were such a joy to be with. We almost

didn’t want the season to end. Even though it ended in the Rose

Bowl and everyone was really excited, it was almost like, `Man, we

need to play again.”’

After a Pac-12 Conference title and the program’s first Rose

Bowl victory since the Nixon Administration, Stanford’s players

simply can’t wait to take the field again – and their sights may be

set even higher next season.

The Cardinal are in far better shape than last January, when

Andrew Luck left to become the NFL’s No. 1 overall draft pick and

several other starters departed along with the record-setting

quarterback. But instead of taking a step back, Stanford sprung

forward, finally toppling Oregon and coming within a victory – or a

disputed replay – at Notre Dame from perhaps supplanting the

Fighting Irish in Monday night’s BCS championship game against

Alabama.

Kevin Hogan is solidified at quarterback, and most of the

Pac-12’s top defense will return. Shaw, winner of two straight

conference coach of the year awards, also turned down the NFL to

sign a ”long-term” deal at Stanford in December – though that

didn’t stop a few NFL teams from inquiring about his services

anyway.

”There have been conversations,” Shaw said, speaking by phone

before heading back on the recruiting trail this week. ”But I

think they all understand now that that’s the reason we signed the

contract when we did, to keep me out of that speculation to let

people know I’m going to be at Stanford.”

The Cardinal have so much depth that Shaw expects to add only

”10 to 12” recruits on signing day Feb. 6. Even a preseason

ranking in the top five of The Associated Press poll is

possible.

”We’re not going to lose a lot of guys,” Shaw said. ”We’re

bringing back a whole lot of guys.”

Middle linebacker Chase Thomas will leave the biggest hole on

defense, though the Cardinal had such a legion of linebackers,

playing time proved to be the only real problem at the position

this season. Leading tackler Shayne Skov wrote on Twitter on

Saturday that he will be back as a fifth-year senior, as expected,

after defensive lineman Ben Gardner tweeted he’d return.

Running back Stepfan Taylor is set to graduate, and so is wide

receiver and punt returner Drew Terrell. Tight ends Zach Ertz – who

could be the top player taken at his position – and Levine Toilolo

appear likely to forego their final year of eligibility for the NFL

draft.

But there are several freshmen from what the program considered

the best recruiting class in Stanford history who didn’t play, or

played sparingly, and could emerge quickly. Among those is running

back Barry J. Sanders, who spurned his Hall of Fame father’s alma

mater at Oklahoma State to make his own mark out West, but injured

his ankle in the fall and ended up redshirting.

With a doubt, though, Stanford is more settled on offense

heading into next season because quarterback is no longer an issue.

The strong-armed and quick-footed Hogan finished 5-0 – including

beating four ranked teams en route to the Rose Bowl – since

replacing Josh Nunes. He impressed so much that the only question

now is how good he can be in his redshirt sophomore season.

”Is he going to be able to make that next step from an athletic

kid to a true, legitimate threat as a passer and as a runner? Will

he be a complete quarterback this year? We’ll see,” Shaw said.

”We know he has the ability to. Can he make that jump?”

The only other concern Shaw has is guarding against

complacency.

Shaw received more than 250-plus text messages, emails and

voicemails – and a hug from former Secretary of State Condoleezza

Rice – since Tuesday’s victory in Pasadena. He called the response

overwhelming, though in some ways it also was a bit unsettling.

For so long, Shaw heard so many consider the Rose Bowl ”out of

reach” for the rigorous academics university. Now that the

Cardinal have accomplished the one goal Shaw sets every season, he

doesn’t want everybody celebrating the accomplishment too much.

After all, there are more games to be won, more trophies to

hoist and perhaps even one more milestone to reach before Stanford

could be considered a powerhouse to those who recognize only one

accomplishment: a national title.

”Will coaches have to crack the whip to get guys motivated, or

will we continue to be motivated even though we did win the Rose

Bowl? Can we continue to push ourselves through success?” Shaw

said. ”We’ll find out.”

Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP