One of the most increasingly important stories of this 2005 Stanford Football
fall camp is the story that cannot be fully told. Injuries are mounting
for the Cardinal, and they have completed just nine of their 21 days of this
camp. By my unofficial count, there are currently injuries at every
position group on the football field for Stanford, save the quarterbacks.
At several positions, there are multiple injuries.
But new Cardinal head coach Walt Harris is not keen on reporting injuries.
He has remained mum each and every time there has been a request by the media
this fall on a given injury. The only injury information on specific
players he has permitted came when a different question was asked. Harris
was queried on the performance of his offensive line, for example, and yielded
the information that starting left tackle Jeff Edwards was out temporarily with a strained
When the subject of the total body count comes up, however, Harris did
comment today on what is a clearly concerning situation.
"We're getting more guys hurt. A couple more were hurt today," he
allows. "Yeah, that's a concern. Sure."
Two types of injuries which have taken Harris by surprise are hamstring pulls
and concussions, the latter of which took one starter out of action today after
depleting two talented reserves yesterday. Stanford's hard-nosed coach is
not anywhere close to changing the rigors of his preseason camp, despite the
mounting body count.
"Training camp is a grind. Football is a grind," he comments.
"This is no country club, either. We just have to find a way."
Harris is displeased with the number of injuries but says it is a part of
life in a violent sport. He likens injuries in practice to what could and
probably will happen to the Cardinal in a game. When one man goes down,
the next needs to be ready to step in. Reserves can become starters in the
blink of an eye. Harris has already forecast that for the Navy game, with
its heightened heat and humidity (neither of which exist at Stanford currently),
he will have to play deeper into his bench than he would normally like.
At positions all over the field, Stanford currently has second or even third team players
lining up with the first string offense or defense. The silver lining may be
an increased preparedness for those players come Saturdays this fall, with the
extra work they are receiving during the preseason. This of course is
palatable only if the currently injured starters are well and capable in the
next couple of weeks. There is little to smile about losing the best
players on your roster.
"We feel bad that some guys got hurt," Harris offers. "Some are freak
Some injuries are also somewhat predictable. Several players on the
roster have histories of injuries, and when we see them go down in a practice,
it comes as little surprise. One of those positions is fullback, where
fifth-year senior Kris Bonifas and redshirt sophomore Emeka Nnoli have both
spent more time in yellow jerseys than not during their respective college
football careers. This was one of the driving forces behind the position
switch last winter for Nick Frank from nose tackle to fullback, which has paid
off beautifully. Frank has been the starter at the position every day of
camp this fall, after holding down the first team position much of the spring.
The injury bug has bitten already this fall, and when Harris received word early
this morning confirming the renewed fullback drain, he once again searched out a
position switch to bolster the offensive backfield. And for the second
time this year, Harris has moved a defensive lineman to fullback.
Freshman Ben Ladner, who conveniently wears #45, received the news of his
move from defensive end to fullback this morning. Just three hours before
the start of practice, he was handed the offensive playbook. That sounds
like a recipe for a very long afternoon for a freshman, but Ladner handled
himself surprisingly well. The evidence came in Harris' praise after the
practice, which comes rarely from the head coach. Typically, Harris defers
comments on players from that day until the next, after he has had a chance to
review film. But he says he could immediately commend Ladner for his first
day's work on offense.
"To his credit, he really impressed me today," Harris lauds of Ladner's debut at
fullback. "That's a Stanford guy. He really picked it up."
One of the most famous numbers reported during the Cardinal's recruitment of
Ladner out of The Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City (Mo.) was his 1560 SAT -
and that came on the old SAT, with a maximum of 1600 points. He's a
smart cookie for sure, though book smarts do not always translate into football
smarts. We have just one day's data thus far for this new fullback, but
Harris says his command of the playbook was well ahead of expectation for
somebody with essentially no previous knowledge or preparation.
One reason to expect a smooth transition is Ladner's high school history.
He ran an eye-popping 4.60 in the 40 at the Nike Camp on Stanford's campus in
May of his junior year - while carrying 265 pounds. As a senior at
Pembroke Hill, he ran for 555 yards on 101 carries and recorded 16 receptions
for 309 yards as a wingback, scoring 12 touchdowns. This lad is no
stranger to the carries, catches and blocking out of the backfield.
Indeed, Ben Ladner initially hoped that he would be recruited as a tight end
out of high school. That is where he played his junior year, though his
combination of size and speed begged for the defensive line. Still, we
noted immediately after Signing Day in The Bootleg Magazine that he could
have a future at fullback. Stanford signed Jerod Arlich in the 2004 class,
a year prior to Ladner, for fullback but lost him to a medical retirement just a
few months after he arrived on campus. The void at fullback remained.
When we learned this summer that Ladner was to wear #45 his freshman year, it
further confirmed our suspicions that he could have an offensive future.
It was also noteworthy that he reported for the summer voluntary workouts at 258
pounds, seven pounds below what he weighed on Signing Day. Granted, the
rigorous regimen of strength & conditioning handed him by Ron Forbes could
understandably strip a few pounds initially, but Ladner looked like the best
possibility to move to fullback on this roster.
That all being said, Walt Harris maintains that this position switch was not
preordained. It would be foolhardy to make a move before getting an actual
look at Ladner on the practice field for the first time. You never know
what kind of football player you have until you put pads on him in fall camp.
"We wanted to try and let guys play the position where they were recruited,"
Harris explains of his policy for the new freshmen. "This was necessitated
by injuries. It was unplanned. At that position, we're not very well
Harris also admitted to the history of injuries that some of his fullbacks
have displayed. He gave similar comments to me in the winter when I
interviewed him and asked about the Nick Frank switch. This is a man
determined to avoid a fullback vacuum, which is yet another data point that
Harris is deadly serious about his running game and two-back offense.
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