Stanford football notebook: Options await Gaffney

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- During last October's memorable Notre Dame-Stanford game when Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor was stuffed inches (or less) from the goal line to preserve an overtime win, one particularly interested viewer watched from afar.

Watching by himself from the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league and spring training complex in Pirate City, Fla., was Tyler Gaffney, who at the time was out of football while pursuing a professional baseball career.

And like most associated with Stanford, it was difficult to watch the Irish escape with a 20-13 victory.

"It was tough, a tough thing to see," Gaffney said. "It was like you had the wind taken out of you."

Gaffney this season had a much better view of the rivalry. The two-sport star spent three years playing both sports on The Farm before pursuing professional baseball in 2012 after being drafted in the 24th round by the Pirates.

College athletes are permitted by the NCAA to participate in a professional sport and a college sport as long as they do not accept endorsement money. So when Gaffney left to pursue his baseball career, he retained a year of football eligibility.

Gaffney hit .297 for the Pirates' Class A affiliate in 2012, but during the offseason he listed out the pros and cons of playing his last season of college football in 2013.

"So I weighed out my options going back to baseball or finishing my degree and playing football," Gaffney said this week via cell phone following a Stanford practice. "All the pros to getting my degree, playing football and being back in California outweighed going back to baseball."

It's been a good move.

The 6-foot-1, 226-pound Gaffney entered Saturday's game against Notre Dame leading the Cardinal with 1,296 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.

The secret?

"I just followed the program and I was ready," said Gaffney, who, ironically, returned to spring practice on the same day as baseball's Opening Day. "This is probably the most in shape I've felt."

Still, there has been a measure of disappointment. An early-season loss to Utah was offset by an upset of Oregon, but the following week, the Cardinal, 9-2 entering Saturday night's game, were eliminated from national championship contention when they lost at USC.

"I was expecting to win every game," Gaffney said. "I guess in that aspect it's been somewhat sort of -- not a disappointment -- but we as a team, I as myself, expected to win every game this year.

"Personal stuff, I've prepared myself to contribute to this team, and I think I've done that."

Gaffney visited Notre Dame in 2008 as a high school senior, making the trip to South Bend in November for that year's game against Syracuse.

"It was great. Very prestigious school. I had a good time," he said. "Just as an overall school it was great to see Touchdown Jesus and all the (things) about Notre Dame that you hear about and you finally get to see."

Also visiting that weekend was a linebacker from Hawaii by the name of Manti Te'o.

"I got to know him relatively well. We did everything together. Great dude," Gaffney said. "Congrats on getting drafted by the Chargers and doing what he's done for Notre Dame. Good, solid person."

During that game, following heavy snow in South Bend, students pelted the field with snowballs.

"Oh there were snowballs all over," he said with a laugh. "They were actually throwing them on the field, not into the stands were I was."

Gaffney has not yet decided which ball he'll be hitting or carrying next year. If he goes back to baseball, it would be with the Pirates, who retain his rights.

"I have no idea," he said. "I'm just taking it day-by-day and enjoying what I'm doing right now while it lasts."

Hoosier ties

Two Cardinal players hail from Indiana. Backup defensive end Blake Lueders (Zionsville) was committed to Notre Dame but switched to Stanford after Charlie Weis was fired. Lueders entered Saturday night's game with 17 tackles, including four for loss.

Running back Remound Wright played at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, the same school as current ND defensive lineman Tony Springmann, and former Irish players Tyler Eifert and John Goodman.

Leading for Legends

Notre Dame entered Saturday night's game leading the all-time series 18-9, meaning the Irish held the Legends Trophy, which is awarded to the winner.

The trophy is named in honor of the 1925 Rose Bowl meeting between the teams.

That game was said by sportswriters to contain more legends on one field than had ever played the game. It matched ND's Knute Rockne and The Four Horsemen against Stanford's Pop Warner and Ernie Nevers.

Legends leader

New to Stanford Stadium this season are what are termed "LED video displays," one in each end zone. For those interested in stadium amenities of that sort, Stanford's measure 24' x 66' with a 13HD pixel layout. Shortly after Auburn's win over top-ranked Alabama was complete, the game-winning play was showed on the boards.

Number crunching

*Entering Saturday, Stanford had at least one tackle for loss in each of its last 46 games and at least one sack in 30 of its last 31 games. Its only game without a sack in that stretch was against Army, which attempted only 10 passes.

*Over its last five games entering Saturday, Stanford had allowed a total of 249 rushing yards.

*Through Stanford's first 11 games of 2012, tight ends accounted for 81 receptions, 1,116 yards and 10 touchdowns. Through the first 11 games this year, tight ends had seven catches for 45 yards and no TDs.

*In its six home games prior to the ND game, the Cardinal had out-rushed opponents 1,268-433.

*Stanford had beaten four ranked opponents at home this season -- No. 23 Arizona State, No. 15 Washington, No. 9 UCLA and No. 2 Oregon.

*Notre Dame entered Saturday night's game ranked No. 25.

BWieneke@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6428 | Twitter: @BobWienekeNDI

Stanford's Tyler Gaffney, right, pushes by Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt during the NCAA college football game between Notre Dame and Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN