Stanford quarterbacks like beating USC’s Matt Barkley. Senior Robbie Picazo was the first one to do it.
After Barkley’s Mater Dei Monarchs dominated Picazo’s Tesoro Titans when the two were high school juniors, the passers met again in the 2008 CIF playoffs with their respective prep careers on the line. Barkley went 12-for-33 with a touchdown and four interceptions (including two pick sixes). Picazo went 22-for-31 with two scores and only one interception. Tesoro advanced.
Four years later, Picazo pants through our post-practice interview like he has just led a two-minute drill from his own 10-yard line. He’s a bit late off the field after getting in a few extra post-practice reps.
You would think he’s preparing for another high-pressure start. You’d be wrong.
For one, Stanford’s starting quarterback isn’t Picazo but his road roommate, fellow senior Josh Nunes. Nunes’ job is to lead the Cardinal offense into battle every Saturday; Picazo’s job is to lead the scout team every Monday through Friday.
He’s Stanford’s fourth-string quarterback if you give him the benefit of the doubt; with Dallas Lloyd back from a two-year Mormon mission, Picazo could very well be fifth in line. He’s a senior walk-on who has only thrown three collegiate passes–all for completions–and likely will never toss another. But he hasn’t thrown in the towel just yet.
“I try to make the most of what I’ve got,” Picazo explains.
He didn’t have very much to work with as a high-school senior four years ago. Despite being named the Orange County Offensive Player of the Year after a 2,754-yard 2008 season that included the win against Barkley, all Picazo had was an official offer from Princeton, which doesn’t offer athletic scholarships due to Ivy League rules, and a “preferred walk-on” spot at Stanford.
Unlike with most recruits, Stanford didn’t have much of an upper hand when it came to the academics, and Picazo’s football opportunities were vaster at Princeton. With the Tigers, he would likely have a smooth ascendance to the helm of an anemic Princeton offense, which is ranked 108th of 121 FCS teams in yards per game this season. With the Cardinal, he would be forced to watch Andrew Luck throw darts for two–well, make that three–years before competing with former top prospects to fill the void left by the eventual two-time Heisman runner-up.
But Picazo, whose parents met while living in Stanford’s Branner Hall as freshmen in 1975, had been following Cardinal football for years and just couldn’t turn his back on a dream.
“I knew if I went to Princeton, I always would’ve wondered,” he said. “This was always my dream, to come to Stanford, so it wouldn’t have really mattered if I had played well [at Princeton]. I would’ve just wondered if I could have succeeded here, and I didn’t want that.”
And so the uphill climb began. Luck had just unseated senior Tavita Pritchard as Stanford’s starting quarterback when Nunes (four stars) and Picazo (two) arrived on the Farm in 2009. When Luck missed the Sun Bowl that year with a finger injury, Picazo was listed as Pritchard’s backup; by the start of their sophomore season, Picazo and Nunes were even on the depth chart.
“Getting here, our offense is pretty complex, so I just tried to pick up as much of it then as I could,” Picazo said. “Looking back, I didn’t know that much.”
“I felt confident in my ability, that I’d get a shot at some point. But there’s only one quarterback that can play at a time, so I knew I would have to wait my time. I was just hoping that at some point, if I performed well enough in practice, I’d get a shot.”
Picazo saw his first game action in the last regular-season contest of 2010, handing off the ball in garbage time against Oregon State. He made the most of his appearance in the 2011 season opener against San Jose State, completing three passes for 15 yards.
But the dream just wasn’t meant to be. Nunes passed Picazo in 2010, Brett Nottingham followed suit in 2011 and Kevin Hogan threw his hat into the ring in 2012. When the long-awaited competition to succeed Luck finally came around this offseason, Picazo was hardly in the conversation.
“I still was working hard and trying to keep my head up, just hoping that maybe an opportunity would present itself,” he said. “But it didn’t really happen.”
So Picazo will likely spend his last two months of Stanford football on the scout team, mimicking opposing quarterbacks for the Cardinal defense’s benefit. He’s pretty darn good at it; Stanford’s defense has stumped Picazo’s old nemesis, Matt Barkley, four years in a row.
After the season he’ll be looking for a job in sports marketing or business (he’s a management science and engineering major). Despite four years of donning a Stanford jersey–the one he had always dreamed of wearing–primarily on the sidelines, he has no regrets.
“As long as I got an opportunity I would be happy with that, just to prove it to myself,” Picazo said. “Either it was going to happen or it wasn’t.”