clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Top 10 Stanford Professional Athletes Part I

New, 4 comments

Stanford's athletic department has produced a total of 107 NCAA team championships in it's existence. That's a lot of athletes; these are the best of those athletes that had a significant impact on their sports at the professional level.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

10. Kerri Walsh Jennings

A local of the Bay Area, Kerri Walsh was born and raised in Santa Clara and Los Gatos. Ironically, she grew up competing against her future parter, Misty May-Treanor. The duo were dubbed the "greatest beach volleyball team of all time." Before the Olympic accolades which included a gold medal three-peat of the 2004, 2008 and 2012 games, Jennings was a four-year first-team All American at Stanford. During her time spent on The Farm, she also collected the 1996 and 1997 national titles, being named the Final Four MVP in the 1996 tournament respectively. Before graduating in 2000, she was named Co-National Player of the Year in 1999.

During the Athens games of 2004, her and Treanor became instant sensations, winning the tournament without ever losing a single set during play. The legend continued in Beijing. Jennings and Treanor repeated as champions, defeating a Chinese team that was only seeded higher then them due to China being the host country. Just like four years previous, the team went undefeated, never losing a single set and extending their undefeated match streak to 108. The London games would seal the trilogy of the duo, and most may not remember that Jennings competed in these games while she was five weeks pregnant. While her 32 set unbeaten streak was finally snapped by Austria in the preliminary stages, she would collect her third gold medal in as many games.

9. John Lynch

If you are a regular visitor to Rule of Tree, you might think you've already seen this name appear in an article this week.

John Lynch was one of the hardest hitting free-safety's in the NFL for the better part of 15 seasons. But some of you may not remember the two sport star that Lynch was at Stanford. Playing both football and baseball, Lynch was once a second round selection of the Florida Marlins. He rode buses for two years in the minor leagues, boasting a 95 mph fastball and what could be considered respectable numbers by today's standards.

Ultimately Lynch would be remembered for the football accolades he collected; which included 9 Pro Bowl selections, three First-Team All-Pro selections, one Second-Team All-Pro selection and a shiny Super Bowl ring to add to the trophy case. He was regarded as one of the most feared tacklers in all the NFL, and would later be ranked the 10th overall most feared by the NFL Network. Known by his teammates for being a consummate leader in the locker room, his leadership and poise couldn't be more showcased by the fact that Lynch missed only 8 games in the final 11 years of his career.

8. Richard Sherman

Somewhere along the way, most people come to a point where they forget that professional sports at its core are meant to be entertainment. Every so often, we as fans get treated to an athlete that doesn't forget. Since he hit the NFL, Sherman has made an effort to make sure that people always have his name in their mouths. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. What cannot be debated however, is the indisputable fact that Sherman is the best or at least amongst the top-5 cornerbacks in the game of football right now.

If you don't believe me, just look at the $57.4 million contract he signed in 2014.

My playing experience in the game of football doesn't extend pass high school. But from what I've been told and from what I remember, playing the cornerback position could possibly one of the most difficult jobs in all of football aside from quarterback.

If you agree with that statement, take into consideration that Sherman was originally scouted and brought into Stanford as a receiver. Garnering Freshman All-American honors in his first season, he led all Cardinal receivers, and continued by catching another 47 over the next two years before a season-ending knee injury. To cap it all off, Sherman electively started playing a new position due to team need when he returned from injury. He'd go on to collect 112 tackles and 6 interceptions in his final two seasons.

Since entering the league in 2011, no cornerback has more interceptions (24), or defended passes (61) then Sherman. Two Pro Bowl selections, three First-Team All-Pro selections, NFC Defensive Player of the Year, NFL Interceptions Leader, two NFC Championships, one Super Bowl. 27 years old. Not bad at all.

7. Kerri Strug

Strug was a graduate student at Stanford, so some might question her eligibility. But if you were alive and coherent in 1996, it's difficult to question giving the woman credit, period. She became the anchor of the illustrious group ever known as the "Magnificent Seven." Not the song by The Clash, the special group of young women that championed the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.

The U.S. women's gymnastics team had never captured Olympic gold, but the seven declared that things were about to change as they played host to the games in their home country. The group was so focused and determined, that they stayed in a private residence apart from the olympic village. A fraternity house, ironically.

Locked in a heated battle for the gold against Russia, things seemed almost dismal during the teams final routines. Dominique Moceanu--regarded as one of the most skilled of Americans--fell twice during her final routine, which resulted in a significant portion of the United States' lead being wiped out and leaving the gold up for grabs.

Strug was as shocked as anyone else, citing Moceanu's fall by saying, "When Dom fell the first time, I thought, 'No, I can't believe it. She never falls.' Then she fell a second time, and it was like, 'Forget this. This is a nightmare.' My heart was beating like crazy, knowing that it was now up to me. I thought, 'This is it, Kerri. You've done this vault a thousand times, so just go out and do it.'"

We all remember what happened after Strug got to the end of that 75-foot runway. After suffering a third degree lateral-sprain and tendon damage and being carried to the podium by her coach, Strug and her teammates were crowned Olympic champions.

6. Andrew Luck

Some people might think it's a bit early for this man's name to be on this list.

When Luck departed Stanford for the NFL, he was regarded almost unanimously by pro-scouts as being the most "NFL ready" of all draft-eligible quarterbacks. When he arrived on The Farm, Luck weighed 217 pounds; he was 241 pounds on draft day. As a redshirt, his 40-yard dash time was 5.09 seconds; at the 2012 draft combine he tied Cam Newton's 2011 40-yard time of 4.59. He also cut his body fat from 6.2% to 4.2% by the time he was destined for the National League.

Consider the facts: Andrew Luck was drafted in 2012. He has played in the NFL for just three seasons. In those three seasons, he has already collected three Pro Bowl selections, the NFL record for most passing yards in a single game, the NFL record for the most passing yards by a rookie in a single season, the most game-winning drives by a rookie quarterback, three AFC Offensive Player of the Week selections and just a few other accolades. There is no doubting Luck might be one of the most special athletic products Stanford has produced since the likes of Jim Plunkett or John Elway.

5. Jim Plunkett

Jim Plunkett is the only Stanford football player to ever win the Heisman Trophy. Which would also make him the only Stanford football player to ever win the Heisman Trophy and a Super Bowl. The latterer of which he did twice.

Plunkett had the odds stacked against him from the start. His freshman campaign was plagued by an almost devastating thyroid operation, which resulted in then head coach John Ralston converting him into a defensive end. He independently undertook a rigorous training program, which at times had him throwing between 500-1,000 passes multiple days per week to keep his arm polished. When Ralston finally took the chance and allowed him to start, Plunkett never looked back. It was certainly a move that cemented the beginnings of the legacies of both individuals.

Eventually, Plunkett would move on and become a first-overall selection in the NFL draft. Amassing over 25,000 passing yards in a career that spanned 16 seasons, Plunkett would also collect rookie of the year honors, two Super Bowl championships, a Super Bowl MVP award, and the 1980 Comeback Player of the Year award. Plunkett remains the only eligible quarterback to start (and win) two Super Bowls without receiving a Hall of Fame induction.