If Stanford is to live up to the enormous expectations surrounding the program in David Shaw's first year at the helm, it will take more than strong individual performances by the Cardinal's established stars. We know what to expect from the likes of Andrew Luck, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro, Stepfan Taylor, a healthy Chris Owusu, Shayne Skov, and Delano Howell. (Namely, greatness.)
Over the next 11 days, I'll profile 11 less heralded players whose ability to adjust to larger roles will help make or break the Cardinal's season.
Today: Ryan Hewitt
Ryan Hewitt probably won't receive any Heisman votes like his predecessor, Owen Marecic, but Stanford's fullbacks can't all be perfect. Hewitt appeared in 13 games last season as a backup fullback and tight end, and caught two passes for 16 yards. Head coach David Shaw described him as "Mr. Versatility," but, with Stanford loaded at the tight end position, the redshirt sophomore is expected to be used exclusively in the backfield.
His main duty will be blowing up would-be tacklers, but Hewitt could be more involved in the passing game than Marecic was. Luck targeted Hewitt on the first play of the Cardinal's Spring Game at Kezar Stadium and the redshirt sophomore had an 8-yard touchdown pass in Stanford's fall scrimmage.
Hewitt says he feels the pressure of replacing a punishing blocker like Marecic:
"I think the pressure comes from other teams because other teams expect for us to have a good fullback. We kind of established ourselves as a good, physical football team, and I’m just going to try and be as physical as I can be."
Stepfan Taylor, one of the running backs for whom Hewitt will be blocking, has all the confidence in the world in the first-year starter.
"Hewitt, coming into spring, surprised a lot of fans," Taylor said. "Inside the team, we knew that he was just as good as Marecic…Hewitt came in as a tight end and is stepping up in the fullback position, where he has to go head to head against linemen and linebackers every time. That shows he loves the game."