PULLMAN – There’s no doubt that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s wisdom is taught at Stanford. And it sure seems like Toby Gerhart took the class.
After all, the famous transcendental poet and essayist saw self-improvement as a never-ending task.
So does Gerhart.
Already Stanford’s offensive go-to-guy – he rushed for 1,136 yards as a junior, third best in the Pac-10 – the Cardinal tailback is still trying to improve.
“The first thing I worked on was my conditioning,” Gerhart said of fall camp. “To be able to stay in there on long drives or after a long run. A lot of times last year, five, six, seven plays in a row, or if I break one for a 20-yard gain, I’m out of breath.”
Gerhart left Washington State University breathless last year, running for 132 yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half of a 58-0 Stanford rout played in a steady downpour.
But that was so last year. Even Gerhart wants that forgotten.
“I want to be able to run with that north-south power,” the 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior said, “but at the same time open it up with a few moves.”
Gerhart not only makes an impact on the football field – he’s 13th on the school’s career rushing list – but on the baseball field as well. A three-year letterman, he hit .288 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs last season.
Playing baseball in the spring hasn’t seemed to hurt his fall performances.
“He’s one of the best backs in the league,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “There’s no question you have to control him. We’re not going to stop him and I don’t know if many people will this year.”
Gerhart has made it clear his goal this season is to run for 2,000 yards in 13 games – yes, he expects Stanford to play in a bowl for the first time since 2001 – which averages out to about 154 yards a game.
“He’s going to get his yards, he’s too good a player not to, and they commit to it enough for that to happen,” Wulff said.
The Cardinal did in the past, in part, because Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t seem confident in the quarterback position.
Tavita Pritchard – related to WSU tight end Tony Thompson – filled that role last year. He was 4 of 8 for 41 yards and a touchdown against WSU last season, but is now a backup to redshirt freshman Andrew Luck for this one.
Harbaugh has been praising Luck since spring and has made a point to emphasize his passing accuracy. Plus, Harbaugh notes, he has the background to be a successful quarterback, with dad Oliver having played in the NFL.
“I think Andrew understands the nature of the quarterback position,” said Harbaugh, a former quarterback. “I think he understands the nature of all eyes being on you.”
Not all the eyes. WSU’s defense will be focused first on Gerhart.
“We’re going to get all 11 guys to the ball,” said senior Andy Mattingly, back at linebacker after playing defensive end during last season’s loss. “We’re going to hit him as hard as we possibly can from play one to the last play of the game.
“We’re going to get as many hats on him as we can.”
“This is going to be a heck of a challenge for our defense to be stout against the run,” Wulff said. “Our key is to hopefully slow (Gerhart) down, hopefully stop him on some key third-down runs, force them to punt and obviously not allow one to break free.”
Or as Emerson might put it: “No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself.”