Our athletes have won more Director’s Cups than any other school in the nation. There, I said it. Article done, right? But I feel like that’s a cop-out – everyone knows we have the number one athletics program in NCAA Division I. What’s actually newsworthy, what actually matters, is that our athletes are quantitatively and qualitatively the best in the nation. Here’s why.
Our athletes are held to a higher academic standard than those at other schools.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said it best: “We’re looking not for student athletes but scholar-athletes. No other school can carry this banner.”
Take Andrew Luck, for example. Our star quarterback, who by all fair comparisons was robbed of the Heisman Trophy, was his high school valedictorian and is majoring in architectural design. There’s no doubt, as Fox Sports put it, that Andrew “has the smarts to go with the impeccable athletic skills.” Indeed, according to teammate Doug Baldwin, “The only thing Andrew can’t do very well is sing.” Luck‘s likely to be the #1 NFL draft pick and, according to the Mercury News, “it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.” Our beloved scholar-athlete seems like a pretty stark contrast to this year’s Heisman winner Cam Newton and the NCAA controversy surrounding his dubious recruitment.
Our athletes are changing the world.
Chemical engineer Jake Vandermeer is a busy guy. A United States Presidential Scholar and former principal cellist for the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, Jake walked on to our #1 men’s volleyball team last year. Just this September, Jake joined the team at the White House celebration of the 2009-10 NCAA championship teams. But what really makes Jake stand out is how he’s radically improving the lives of others. This summer he helped develop a potential cure for Legg-Calve-Perthes disease – a crippling disease that affects about 1,200 children a year. That’s really something to cheer about.
Our athletes are well-rounded.
Women’s soccer player Christen Press is one of three finalists for the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year. This prestigious honor, manifested in the awarding of the Honda-Broderick Cup, recognizes one female athlete a year “not only for her superior athletic skills, but also for her leadership abilities, academic excellence and eagerness to participate in community service.”
Stanford Football fullback / linebacker Owen Marecic is one of the last three contenders for the Hornung Award for the “most versatile player in major college football.” And nobody’s terribly surprised. Sports Illustrated has called him “the perfect player” and “Stanford’s total package.” Marecic scores on both offense and defense (see video), and the New York Times warns opponents that “Stanford Star [Marecic] is a Threat on Both Sides of the Ball.” According to Coach Harbaugh, he’s got it goin’ on: “He has everything—strength, humility, intelligence.” Marecic is majoring in human biology (last spring he had the highest GPA on the football team) and spent his summer internship at Stanford Hospital studying infection risks in knee replacements (USA Today). Oh, and he’s growing out his hair to donate it to Locks of Love. In Marecic’s own words, “The only gift we have is today…. I just try to embrace the time I have now and make the most of it.”
The rankings don’t lie.
While the aforementioned athletes are certainly standouts, they really are representative members of our exceptional athletics department. Take, for example, the fact that Stanford is leading the Academic BCS rankings. With the top score of 94, we beat out the next contender by 7.3 points. (Ahem, Auburn gets a measly 32, cough, cough.)
Stanford’s also rocking the Pac-10, with 7 of last year’s 22 Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards going to Stanford students – more than any other school. This impressive list includes: Landry Fields (men’s basketball), Jayne Appel (women’s basketball), Carly Janiga (women’s gymnastics), Ali Riley (women’s soccer), David Dunford (men’s swimming & diving), Lindsay Burdette (women’s tennis), and Jake Johnson (wrestling).
Recent alums are no exception.
Stanford alumna Katherine Kuchenbecker, a professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at Penn, was just named to Popular Science‘s “Brilliant 10” list of the country’s top young scientists to watch. She directs Penn’s Haptics Lab, whose work blends innovative electromechanical design with modeling and user testing to solve problems involving robotic surgery, undersea and outer space remote repair work, and immersive video games. And, oh, yeah, she won two NCAA Championships with Stanford’s women’s volleyball team in 1996 and 1997.
Landry Fields, class of ’10, made his NBA debut as the Knicks’ starting off guard – fresh off of being named the Pac-10 Men’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. The Wall Street Journal says Fields’ “intelligence manifests itself on the court.”
And hopefully this goes without saying, but I don’t think anyone’s forgotten how engineering major Toby Gerhart took 21 units during his last quarter at Stanford. Toby’s now getting a chance to shine for the Minnesota Vikings – and his bright career’s only just beginning.
We’re all in this together.
Unlike many schools’ athletes who comprise practically a different social class, isolated from mere academics and their petty concerns, Stanford athletes are just as much a part of the community as the rest of us. I remember being asked where the athlete dorms were during one of my first prospective undergraduate tours as a new tour guide. I was flustered and confused by the question at the time, but I’ve since learned that at other schools, athletes don’t mingle with the “mortals.” Not so at Stanford. It’s cool to see Luck and Marecic eating in the dining halls with the freshmen, handling adoration and admiration with humble smiles and easy conversation.
What really inspired me to write this article was an experience after the Arizona game in early November. Right after we won, the team, as usual, ran over to the Red Zone to join in the post-game celebrations with the Band and the rest of the students. My dad, who was visiting for the weekend, was befuddled. “What are they doing?” he asked. I shrugged. “Celebrating with us, of course.” Our team salutes the fans, helmets in hand, after every game. This isn’t normal. But at Stanford, this is just the kind of community, the kind of sports-stars-to-sports-fans camaraderie that we’re used to. And it’s pretty awesome.
Go Cardinal. Go Stanford. I love my school.