Ahead of this year’s Big Game, The Stanford Daily’s Ryan Beyer sat down with junior running back Caleb Robinson, junior offensive guard Levi Rogers, junior offensive tackle Myles Hinton and junior defensive lineman Tobin Phillips. The players discussed the team’s recent form, their expectations for the game and the importance of the rivalry, the fans and, of course, walking away with a victory in one of college football’s most heated rivalries.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): It’s been a tough year for Stanford football, but what lessons have you taken from the season so far?
Myles Hinton (MH): A lesson that I’ve taken from this year is that you can’t always control what life gives you, but you can always control how you react, no more no less.
Caleb Robinson (CR): We’re a really good team when we don’t beat ourselves. We still fight until the end and play with great effort.
Levi Rogers (LR): We have learned how to stay together as a team and play with each other and for each other.
TSD: Stanford had an impressive two-game win streak against Notre Dame and Arizona State, but that was followed by a couple of heavy defeats. What have you guys been working on to rediscover that winning form and what can we expect from Stanford in the season’s final games?
MH: We’ve been working hard in practice and in the film room on fixing the issues. Fans can for sure expect a different Stanford team than they’ve seen in prior weeks. Big Game week means a lot.
CR: The defense has been huge in stepping up for us, and our offense has been able to sustain drives but hasn’t been able to finish them — we’re working on making that final push to get in the end zone. You can expect to see us play more complementary football and put up more points.
LR: We have been trying to keep mastering and controlling the things we can. You can expect us to keep fighting for a win.
Tobin Phillips (TP): Since the win streak, we’ve lost a lot of guys due to injury, so we’ve been working on filling those spots with guys who can get the job done, whoever it may be. What people can expect from the final games is effort on the field as we’ve made that a point of emphasis in our game since the offseason.
TSD: And what do you expect from Cal; what kind of game should fans be expecting?
MH: It’s always a close, high-emotion game against Cal. Fans can expect the Cardinal to put ‘lil bro’ back in his place.
CR: Cal’s been having a tough year, very similar to ours last year. But we know everyone brings their A-game when they play us, so Cal will definitely bring it for the Big Game. It’s going to be a very physical game [and] a fight from start to finish.
LR: We match up well against them. It will be a dog fight.
TP: A rivalry game like this is always going to be exciting, so fans should definitely be expecting that, and we expect them to come out swinging just like us.
TSD: You’re traveling to Cal amid a tough run of losses. Does that provide extra motivation for you guys to get the win?
MH: Motivation to beat Cal is always there, we just have to have a ‘walk in your trap and take over your trap’ kind of mentality that we’ve already displayed at Notre Dame.
CR: The Big Game always means a lot to us, but it means a little more this year. They came into our stadium last year and beat us and we still have a bad taste in our mouths from it. We’re ready to go into their place and take our Axe back.
TP: With the kind of season it’s been, it does kind of allow us to put all of our chips into getting the Axe back without having to think about much else.
TSD: Now, we’ve talked about the rivalry itself, but how do the players approach the Big Game? Are the levels raised? Is there increased pressure? Or is it just another game on the schedule?
MH: The Cal game is always marked in the schedule and everyone mentally prepares for it differently. For me, I have to see it as just a normal game so I can perform with no pressure. It’s just another game we need to go in and dominate.
CR: We prepare hard and approach every game the same. Obviously in rivalry week the stakes are increased and emotions are raised, so the intensity will be higher this week at practice — but I don’t want to discount the work that goes into preparing for every game.
TP: Whenever it’s Big Game week, there’s a buzz and energy in the air that only comes when the Axe is on the line. Practice, meetings and lifts all have that extra edge.
TSD: A lot has been said about Stanford fans’ turnout, but the Big Game is certainly a time when everyone shows up to support. How do you guys respond to the fans’ support in big moments?
LR: I love the atmosphere at Big Game because it reminds us that we do have people that care about Stanford football, not just those in the program itself.
MH: We need people there at the game for support. The energy of our fans [at] home games and especially away games gives the team life. It helps knowing y’all as fans have our back. Fan energy is huge.
TP: The crowd is a factor that many people take for granted, and playing with such low turnout this year has made games more difficult. We’re really looking forward to the crowd support this week as it just ups the energy and excitement of the game.
TSD: An away contest as well — do you have a message to the fans who make their way up to Berkeley?
TP: To the fans who will make the trip, you have a bigger impact on the game than you know. We see you guys up there, and it gives us that extra motivation to go even harder.
MH: Expect a great game, come with energy and we will deliver. We love the fans for sure and if you’re traveling with us we know you guys are ride or die.
LR: Get ready for us to fight.
CR: Again, we just appreciate your support of us and we’re going to give you everything we’ve got this week.
TSD: We’ve mentioned the atmosphere, the occasion and the fans. What else motivates the players for Big Game? How important is it to bring home the Axe for your seniors?
TP: One of the biggest motivators for guys on the team is remembering how much work we’ve put into this season during the winter, spring and summer training periods. We’re here pretty much year-round training for just 12 opportunities that are only 60 minutes long, so making the most of each of those opportunities is crucial. And bringing home the Axe for our seniors is priority number one this week because they deserve to hold it up at the end of the game.
MH: Bringing the Axe home for the seniors is a huge driving force. We want to send these guys off with great memories after a season we didn’t expect. The past is the past, all we can do is keep pushing to give the guys who are leaving a good send-off.
LR: This game is for the seniors. I want to send them out the right way.
CR: Our seniors have given everything to this program; we got a lot of guys who came back for fifth and sixth years so it would mean a lot to be able to send them off with the Axe.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.