Before last week’s kickoff, Stanford debuted special pregame attire; in addition to featuring the logo of CardinalBLCK — an organization by and for Black Stanford student-athletes — on the team’s sweatshirts, the gear also had messages chosen by each player.
The vision for the statement came from fifth-year cornerback Treyjohn Butler and junior defensive end Thomas Booker and was executed by Stanford’s equipment managers, who brought the designs to life in Eugene. There, Stanford players knelt in the end zone after the playing of the national anthem as a sign of “unity against racial injustice.”
“Everybody got to express themselves in a way they felt comfortable, in a way that they felt was poignant enough to get whatever point they had across,” Booker said. “It was a pretty powerful display of what can happen when an organization puts their time into something and has a meaningful cause behind it.”
“It was awesome to be able to express ourselves like that pregame,” Booker added.
While their efforts debuted on national television on Saturday, the effort began much earlier — before training camp even opened.
“Around the killing of George Floyd, I think a lot of Black Stanford student athletes were extremely dismayed at what was going on in the country,” Booker said.
Booker felt that the lack of an institutional response spoke loudly. In response, Booker — along with senior forward Maya Dodson of women’s basketball, senior Kyla Bryant of women’s gymnastics, junior inside linebacker Jacob Mangum-Farrar and many other Black Stanford student athletes — started CardinalBLCK.
“We felt like we needed a community that had all of our interests in mind and at heart,” Booker said. “We wanted it to be a springboard for community initiatives and community action in terms of things like voting or community outreach in East Palo Alto.”
The junior also spoke about the collective vision for the organization: to be “a place that black Stanford student athletes can go to and have similar faces, opinions and ideas expressed for them.”
“Stanford is a majority white institution,” he continued. “So sometimes it can feel isolating, specifically as a student-athlete, and all the stereotypes that come along with that. Having an organization that embraces all those viewpoints and also has action items, for things that you can do to actually better outcomes for people that you care about in the community, that was our goal.”
Junior safety Kendall Williamson spoke about how he has already felt a sense of community and togetherness with African American athletes on campus because of CardinalBLCK, which stands for Brilliance, Leadership, Community and Knowledge.
“Having discussion in groups that talk about these things and bring these things up is very important,” Williamson said.
The next step for fifth-year outside linebacker Jordan Fox was to have those discussions as a team. Through having tough conversations, Fox knew he could “rely on my other white brother that is on my team to understand, know and empathize with what I’m going through and what is going on in the world.”
“In spite of all the craziness, and with all this going on in the world, it brought us together as a team,” Fox said.
“We’ve always tried to integrate these things into our lives so this is not crazy new to us,” said fifth-year safety Malik Antoine. “I think that the beautiful thing about our locker room is that we have viewpoints, we have issues we want to attack and we’ve been vocal about it.”
“To use the platform they’ve been given to raise awareness for the situation that’s happened over this past year has been really awesome,” said senior right tackle Foster Sarell. “I see it as no other than a benefit to our country and to the Stanford community.”
“[Booker] has the whole team’s support with it,” he added.
Unsurprisingly, throughout the summer, student-oriented head coach David Shaw ’95 was a useful resource. Shaw asked his players, “What do you want to do and how can we help?”
Booker and others responded by asking their coach about the messages and the imagery.
“This is just one of those things that makes me proud to be at Stanford: that we have such great leaders at a young age,” Shaw said. “Probably my favorite part about this is that the effort is geared towards being positive.”
Shaw is one of only 14 Black head coaches in the FBS. Between Shaw and athletic director Bernard Muir, Stanford is one of only three schools with a Black head coach and athletic director. For its 2020 media guide, Stanford added a “Black Leadership” section to highlight Shaw and Muir.
Between Dennis Green, Tyrone Willingham and Shaw, Stanford is one of only two FBS schools to have ever had three Black head football coaches. The other is Colorado, Stanford’s opponent this Saturday, which is led by first-year head coach Karl Dorell.
Green was the first African American head football coach in Stanford and Pac-12 history. During his time on the Farm before leaving to coach the Minnesota Vikings, he left an impact on many Stanford players, including Shaw. That impact will be felt this week when Stanford’s current head coach uses the words of his former coach to prepare his team for their home opener in a near-empty Stanford Stadium.
“Denny [Green] used to always say every time you go in your own stadium, it should be special,” Shaw said Thursday. “We’ll do a walkthrough in there today and I’ll say those words like Coach Green used to say to us.”
Colorado is coming off a 48-42 win in which it held off a UCLA surge after jumping ahead 35-7. The two biggest surprises for Colorado were the play of quarterback Sam Noyer, who was a safety last year, and running back Jarek Broussard, who had three touchdowns on 187 yards.
“That was a really, really good start for him on his first start of his career,” Dorrell said of Noyer. “He was a safety a year ago. Can you believe that?”
Noyer threw for 257 yards and rushed for 64 more with a touchdown passing and rushing.
Despite solid quarterback and running back play from the Buffaloes and the Cardinal in last week’s games, each team’s kicker has had a rough start to the season. The two teams have combined to go 2-for-9 on field goals this year, though their meeting last year was decided by three points on a field goal as time expired.
Run game resurgence
After talking about it all offseason, Stanford lived up to the expectations it had set for itself to improve on last year’s rushing attack. In his first start, sophomore running back Austin Jones rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
“[Jones] can obviously make anybody miss in the phone booth, he’s very electric,” said sophomore running back Nathaniel Peat. “He has the potential of making a lot of explosive plays. And I feel like we both have that potential in us. I’m a pretty fast back.”
Peat showed off that speed on a 73-yard run last week, and totaled 93 for the game. Both running backs benefited from an improved offensive line that went from an average of 289 pounds last season to 310 this year.
“It’s great,” Peat said. “You could tell just by the push they were able to get.”
“I haven’t had trouble putting on weight, especially going home, having those home cooked meals helped a lot,” said sophomore left tackle Walter Rouse. “Being 320 versus 290 or 300 is night and day.”
Going against one of the best defensive lines in the conference, Stanford’s offensive line held its own.
“We saw a lot of potential for where we can go for the season,” Rouse said.
Injury and COVID Updates
As of Thursday, Stanford did not have an update on the status of senior quarterback Davis Mills, senior wide receiver Connor Wedington or junior defensive end Trey LaBounty, who were all held out of last Saturday’s game due to COVID-19 precautions. The team is now undergoing additional testing due to their belief that a false positive triggered the decision to hold out three players last week.
“We’re waiting for all parties to get on the same page,” Shaw said, hoping to have more information in the next 12-24 hours. He expressed interest in having the players currently in the protocol available for the “Fast Friday” runthrough in order to fully prepare them for this weekend’s game.
Sophomore cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly and senior outside linebacker Gabe Reid, both of whom missed week one due to injury, are expected to play.
While junior inside linebacker Ricky Miezan suffered an injury last week and will be out for an extended period of time, sophomore inside linebacker Levani Damuni will likely play on Saturday. When asked if sophomore inside linebacker Aeneas DiCosmo would be able to fill in, Shaw said he was “banged up” but practiced Wednesday, a good sign for his game-time availability.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.