Senior Sit Down: A.J. Tarpley, football

Oct. 29, 2014, 11:39 p.m.

Fifth-year senior inside linebacker and team captain A.J. Tarpley has recorded the most tackles (269) of any Cardinal player over the past four years while helping build Stanford into a defensive juggernaut and two-time defending Pac-12 champion. Ahead of Stanford’s game against Oregon this Saturday, The Daily’s Michael Peterson talked with Tarpley to reflect on his five years on the Farm.

Michael Peterson (MP): How crazy does it feel to know that you’re already more than halfway through your last season at Stanford?

(SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)
Senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley (right) is currently second on the team with 53 tackles, only behind fellow inside linebacker Blake Martinez. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

A.J. Tarpley (AT): Yeah, you know, time flies. You’re sitting there as a redshirt freshman thinking ‘When am I going to play?; it’s going to be forever,’ and then next thing you know you’re a fifth-year senior and you have just a few games left. It’s crazy, but at the same time you want to have the same mentality throughout your career that you’re going to play every down, every game like it’s your last. Football is a game that can be taken from you in a second. That’s something that I think our team understands and that’s why we work so hard because it really could go away at any second.

MP: When you came to Stanford, Stanford was on a bit of an up-swing but still wasn’t quite there yet. Now, you’ve been to four straight BCS bowls and you guys are in control of your fate in the Pac-12 this season. How far has the program come while you have been here?

AT: It’s been turned around completely. Credit that to [former head] coach [Jim] Harbaugh, coach [David] Shaw and everybody that had something to do with it. [Strength and conditioning] coach [Shannon] Turley is a guy that never gets enough credit for that. I committed to Stanford even before we went to the Sun Bowl. Our class is a class that even though we have been to BCS bowls every year, we try not to take that for granted. You learn from the older guys when you are a freshman because those are the guys that worked year through year where getting to a BCS bowl wasn’t a reality; it didn’t happen for them. You have to learn those lessons from them that nothing comes easy. Just because you’re Stanford, you’re not going to go to the BCS bowls. It’s all about how hard you work and the kind of stuff you put in. It’s something that we’ve tried to take and understand and put it on the younger guys as well.

MP: You were here when Andrew Luck and the offense was the highly touted unit and now it’s transitioned to where the defense is the more highly regarded unit. How has it been seeing this defense go from being a second thought behind Luck to being the core of this Cardinal team?

AT: It’s been fun, being on defense especially you like to see that. I still remember when I was a redshirt coming in, [former Stanford defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio, the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, he brought out his PowerPoint and said ‘we have to build the blueprint and lay the bricks for a great defense because we haven’t had one in the past.’ He spoke to us and year by year we’ve kind of added the next layer of that game plan, of that blueprint. That’s what’s great to see. It’s great to see that you have a plan and the coaches set it out and even though we’ve had different coaches and different players come through here, it’s the same message that’s been preached. That’s how we’ve been able to build up each year and hopefully just get better every year and so far this year I think we’ve done a great job but we’re definitely not satisfied and we hope to continue to get better.

MP: What’s it been like this year being a captain and being a clear leader on this team?

AT: It’s been awesome. You try not to change too much. The guys that are captains like to think that our body of work has gotten us here. It’s not because we’re fifth-year seniors that we’re captains it’s because of how we’ve carried ourselves throughout our careers. There’s leaders everywhere, we have four captains but there’s leaders on offense, defense – you can talk about Henry Anderson, David Parry, I could go on – but it’s a team leadership thing. It’s nice to be a fifth-year and be recognized for it but at the end of the day, you’re just a player.

MP: I can think of a lot of memorable moments from your career here at Stanford. Obviously, one that comes to mind is when you pounced on that fumble in the Coliseum to seal the triple-overtime victory against USC in 2011. Also, Marcus Mariota has only thrown 11 interceptions in his collegiate career and you have one of them. Reflecting back on your time at Stanford, do you have a moment that stands out in your mind?

AT: That game against USC is one I’ll never forget. And that’s because it was my fourth start or something. I was a freshman playing. That was what really brought me onto college football and gave me that confidence. It showed me and showed everyone what I can accomplish. The team moments, you talk about winning the Rose Bowl and that win up in Oregon two years ago just because in both those scenarios, it was such a team effort. That’s really what you’re trying to achieve after everything’s done.

MP: What are you going to miss most about Stanford?

AT: Probably just the locker room. You’ll hear it from a bunch of guys, the guys that you meet in here are guys that you’ll be friends with for the rest of your life. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good experience in terms of success on the football field but at the end of the day it’s about the guys that you meet, the players that you get to play with and hangout with.

MP: And what would be the picture-perfect ending to your career here at Stanford?

AT: To win every one of our last games we have here. No matter who we play, no matter who we line up against, we’re just trying to go 1-0. All we’re focused on right now is Oregon and hopefully that will carry through.

Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’


Michael Peterson is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. He has served as a beat reporter for football, baseball and men’s soccer and also does play-by-play broadcasting of football and baseball for KZSU. Michael is a senior from Rancho Santa Margarita, California majoring in computer science. To contact him, please email him at mrpeters ‘at’

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