In a world of sports where there is more and more specialization, Tyler Gaffney was able to play both baseball and football at Stanford while working to graduate with a double major. On the football field, he got his opportunity to carry the heaviest load as a running back this season, helping the Cardinal win the PAC-12 and going to the Rose Bowl this year.
Gaffney discusses his experience playing both football and baseball; both its positives and negatives. He also discusses some of the intracasies of his career, what makes Stanford different from other schools, some of the biggest games of his career and what he brings to the NFL and why he can succeed at that level.
Peter Smith: Are you a running back or an outfielder?
Tyler Gaffney: I am a running back who can play the outfield.
PS: In a perfect world, you’d be a professional running back?
TG: You know, you love the game of football. You have to go with what you love.
PS: Your brother plays Rugby at Cal, which is basically the top collegiate program in the country in that sport?
TG: Yea, he plays Rugby at Cal. We support his sport, but maybe not the school in its entirety.
PS: You did not do his any school any favors when you played them this year.
TG: No, not at all. That’s the big game. It’s been a tradition around here for far too long.
PS: I mean 50 points though. 63-13. That’s kind of rough. Do you start to feel bad at any point?
TG: (Laughs) Yea, I mean they took a little different approach to us. They put 11 in the box and it didn’t seem like they were too focused on the pass. I think (Kevin) Hogan, at one point, had maybe 7 or 8 completions for about 5 touchdowns.
PS: How did you end up at Stanford?
TG: Stanford kinda speaks for itself. You have the weather, the location; you’re right here in the Silicon Valley for those who want to venture out. I had the opportunity to play baseball and football here and as an 18 year old, I couldn’t turn down either sport, you know, I wanted to keep playing. And once they opened up that opportunity, I took it full throttle.
PS: Did you get some pushback from other schools at the idea that you wanted to play both sports?
TG: You know, other schools, I was down to USC and Notre Dame as well and they both said they wanted me to kinda take my freshman year off from baseball and just focus on football and then I could continue baseball my sophomore year. And I wanted to play right away. Taking a year off of a sport and trying to come back may not be the easiest.
PS: How does it feel, even if they have the best intentions at heart, for a school to basically tell you they’d really rather you not play a sport you’ve played your whole life?
TG: It’s hard. It’s hard to hear that, because you know as a successful athlete, there’s a certain confidence where you know you can play, you know you can compete with the best of them and to be told I can’t do that, I can’t do something that I love and be successful at in, it’s hard, hard to hear, especially as a senior in high school.
PS: You’ve played 3 or 4 years of baseball?
TG: I played 3 years of baseball at Stanford. My fourth year was with the (Pittsburgh) Pirates minor league organization and then I played four years of football at Stanford.
PS: Getting to play four years of baseball and football, do you feel like you have cheated yourself or is it more satisfying getting to do both when schools told you couldn’t?
TG: I definitely don’t feel like I’ve cheated myself. Playing two sports definitely hinders your ability to be as successful as you’d like to be at each individual sport, because half the season I’m in football and half the year I’m swinging a bat. My weight fluctuated 20, 25 pounds every year just from football weight to baseball weight, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I loved it, I loved my experience in the minor leagues, playing baseball at Stanford, but by doing all of the above, I found out I love football and that’s what I’ve come back to do.
PS: Why the weight fluctuation between the two sports?
TG: Well, I usually played at Stanford around 220 to 225lbs and here at baseball, you tend to lose a little weight just because it’s not as strenuous in lifting. At Stanford, we’re not allowed to eat for 4-6 hours a day. Coach has a rule that you can’t eat; there’s no snacks, no anything, so when you’re out in the field, there’s no food and not being able to eat for 6 hours being active will take its toll on your body, your weight.
PS: What’s the benefit?
TG: I didn’t lose that much weight on purpose. It was just due to the fact that Coach had a rule we weren’t allowed to eat. No snacks; I couldn’t consume anything in the dugout or up in the locker room while we are practicing or playing. And that takes its toll on your weight.
PS: Doesn’t that make the club house no fun?
TG: You know, you could ask many baseball players at Stanford how that made them feel and I would say they’d point in that direction.
PS: Tougher coach; your baseball coach or Coach (David) Shaw?
TG: I think Coach Mark Marquess was definitely tougher with what he said and what needed to be done, but the thing you have to love about Stanford football and Coach Shaw was that he didn’t have to say much. It was an expectation around there upheld by our other players, other coaches. Coach Shaw, I don’t want to say had it easy, but definitely recruited, taught and coached a certain type of player to play a certain way and act a certain way. That’s what makes Stanford successful.
The type of person that goes to Stanford whether it’s a student or student athlete; you don’t have to worry about them. You don’t hear about any Stanford players in the media doing stupid things. It’s a rare breed around here and I think people are pretty focused and know it takes to be successful.
PS: What does Duck taste like?
TG: What does Duck taste like? You know, it tastes real good and as of lately, Stanford has been around to taste some duck as you say.
PS: Does Stanford feel Oregon is soft? You guys tend to have more fourth and fifth year guys so you have that age and maturity both physically and mentally. There’s gotta be sort of an edge when you get on the field that you know you’re gonna push these guys around.
TG: I wouldn’t classify them as soft, but we do go in with that mentality that we have that type of advantage on them. They’re a fast team. They pride themselves on being fast, making the defense make mistakes. You know, they run a three yard play, three yard play and then boom, 60, 70 yards for the touchdown. And that’s how they score so fast, but as you saw with how Stanford played, you do everything right and you contain that offense. All about ball control and pushing the guys back on defense, because they do have a bunch of speed guys. A bunch of athletes; no real big, strong bruisers, so it’s a little wear and tear. Like you said, the older, more mature guys on our team know exactly what it takes to beat them morally.
PS: How would you characterize your running style?
TG: I’d say I’m a slasher. You know, I’m gonna make one cut and I’m a guy who breaks tackles. I’m not gonna make you miss. I’m not gonna juke. I’ve learned you don’t need to do that, especially at the next level because everybody’s fast, everybody’s strong. Juking is not as helpful. One cut and get the yards you can get and make a couple more yards out of that.
PS: What does it mean to win the Zeimer Award as the team MVP?
TG: You have to be grateful for any award, because that puts all the all the work, all the team; your whole team comes together and helps you win a certain award, so every award is special. You know, I have to thank everybody on my team. It takes everybody, obviously as a running back.