Lakshman: Giving thanks this Stanford football season

Nov. 26, 2015, 12:14 a.m.

In the glorious landscape of time off from school with friends and family, Thanksgiving just might be my favorite holiday. It stands for serious reflection, a much-needed space for gratitude as opposed to just another cog in the Hallmark Industrial Complex. It’s acceptable to eat yourself into a coma. And, above all, it’s inextricably linked with football.

As we get set to celebrate another Thanksgiving, with the most important Saturday of the regular season right on its heels, I want to take a moment to give thanks for another wild, wacky football season and specifically the team that practically defines my existence.

David Shaw 2.0

We’ve all seen the shirt, the op-ed pieces, the raw emotion from Stanford’s head man that incites enough adrenaline to run through a brick wall. I love the new David Shaw just as much as everyone else — it adds pure joy to a game that couldn’t get any more exciting. But that’s not exactly why I’m thankful for David Shaw 2.0.

Instead, I go back to the 2014 UCLA game and the story of cornerback Ronnie Harris feeling compelled by some mystical force on the sideline to implore his head coach to “let it out” and share those in-game moments with his players. In the process, Shaw affirmed his status as a player’s coach, one who truly cares about the well-being of his guys and is willing to adapt to maintain that commitment. Can you imagine Nick Saban making such a significant adjustment in his approach after a sideline conversation with a player? Stanford should feel grateful to have a native son in Shaw leading the charge and, rebounding from a rough stretch in 2014, he and his coaching staff are doing as fine of a job as anyone in the country.

Brennan Scarlett

You are stranded on a deserted island, in anguish from the beating sun and rendered immobile by severe dehydration. Then, a neatly wrapped package washes up on shore at just the right time to save your life. Is it food? Is it water? No, it’s something much better: defensive end Brennan Scarlett.

It’s hard to understate just how much Scarlett has meant to this team both in terms of on-field production and as a locker room presence. Prior to training camp, Stanford was looking perilously thin at defensive line — long gone were the days when the Cardinal had the luxury of bringing in an NFL player in Josh Mauro off the bench. As if the situation weren’t dire enough, Stanford then lost Harrison Phillips for the season against Northwestern. Scarlett, the first graduate transfer in program history — from that other school across the Bay, no less — went from a key piece expected to add depth to a key piece expected to keep the Cardinal’s season afloat. And he has done exactly that.

A former team captain at Cal, Scarlett has proven to be a valuable voice of leadership and, in the course of just four months, has emerged as one of the best interviews on the team. If that’s not enough of a reason, at least we can all agree to be thankful for the picture below. Pure, unadulterated bliss.

The Tunnel Workers Union

No matter what type of gameplan an opponent demands, Stanford’s offensive identity revolves around dominating in the trenches, and this year’s O-line has more than lived up to the task, launching Stanford right back into the thick of the national conversation after a disappointing start. There’s a lot to be thankful for amongst this group. For starters, there’s Outland Trophy finalist and the nation’s best left guard Josh Garnett, who forms half of the formidable “Bash Bros” duo with Kyle Murphy along the left side of the line. Then, there’s everybody’s favorite teammate center Graham Shuler, not to mention the host of other talents that see the field including Johnny Caspers, Casey Tucker and “jumbo” linemen David Bright, Brendon Austin, Nick Davidson and Brandon Fanaika.

For a group that builds its reputation by serving up pancakes every Saturday, the Tunnel Workers Union is always approachable and never fails to provide an honest, intelligent interview. They are as nice off the field as they are menacing and merciless on it.

Speed, speed and more speed

In Tuesday’s press conference, Christian McCaffrey was asked to put together the best relay team out of the current roster. After some thought, he named Isaiah Brandt-Sims, Michael Rector and Bryce Love, before hesitating once more. McCaffrey speculated that he might not be in the top five or six on the team before quickly adding, “I’d fight for it.”

But just think about that for a second. The Cardinal’s Heisman Trophy contender, the supersonic playmaker set to eclipse Barry Sanders’ NCAA all-purpose yards record and Toby Gerhart’s single-season rushing mark, may not even be one of the five fastest players on the team. Speed absolutely kills, and I’m thankful we get to live in an age where we can see so many otherworldly athletes take the field at once and flip the script on the narrative of Stanford’s offense as slow and lumbering in 4.3 to 4.4 seconds.

Meanwhile, McCaffrey deserves his own moment of thanks. As someone who missed watching Andrew Luck by a year and Gerhart by several more, No. 5 is the most breathtaking player I have seen in college and he’s truly special to watch.

The seniors

Through the highs and lows of four years, the members of this senior class have maintained the culture of excellence on the field instilled by their predecessors, while pushing the ceiling even higher with three Pac-12 Championship appearances in four seasons. It will be tough to watch so many of them run through that tunnel at Stanford Stadium for the final time, but the gratitude for so many great memories should outweigh any premature nostalgia. After all, despite 40 wins under their belts since 2012, there’s still plenty of big time football left. And that’s something for which I’m sure we can all agree to be thankful.


Ask Vihan what foods he will be consuming on his way towards eating himself into a coma at vihan ‘at’

Vihan Lakshman's journey at The Stanford Daily came full-circle as he began his career as a football beat writer and now closes his time on The Farm in the same role. In between, he has served as an Opinions columnist and desk editor, a beat writer for Stanford baseball, and as a member of The Daily's Editorial Board. Vihan completed his undergraduate degree in Mathematical and Computational Science in 2016, and is currently pursuing a master's in Computational Mathematics. He also worked as a color commentator on KZSU football broadcasts during the 2015 season. To contact him, please send an email to vihan 'at'

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