What’s it like to spend a day in the shoes of Stanford’s Bryce Love, the fastest running back in college football? To find out, first you have to get him to slow down.
At 6 a.m., I’m already in trouble.¶ The sun is just beginning to peek through the thick trees that surround Stanford’s campus, and I’m shivering in the parking lot behind Bryce Love’s dormitory, watching Love pedal away on a black electric bicycle. Even riding shotgun in a Stanford-issue golf cart, I have no prayer of catching up. That’s when I realize this assignment—to shadow the fastest running back in college football from daybreak to lights out—will reveal Love in exactly the way most Pac-12 defenses see him. Which is to say, I’ll have an excellent view of his back.¶ For much of the day, that back is seated on his electric bike—not that Love, 21, needs any help getting faster; I’m fairly certain the bike actually slows him down. As a 12-year-old in Wake Forest, North Carolina, he ran the 100 meters in 11.64 seconds, the 200 in 23.37 seconds and the 400 in 50.75 seconds. (His times in the 100 and 400 still stand as national age-group records.)
Those legs made him a four-star recruit as a senior at Wake Forest High, even though he stood 5-foot-9 and weighed a smidge under 180. He chose Stanford over most of the SEC, ACC and Big Ten despite never having heard of the school until head coach David Shaw offered him a scholarship in his sophomore year. (“He might not have heard of Stanford, but I can tell you that his parents had definitely heard of Stanford,” his mother, Angela, says.) After visiting the Northern California campus, Love fell in love with all those trees and the pink sunsets over the foothills and the nerdy football players who had interests outside of sports, just like he did.
At 6:18, Love locks his bike at the Arrillaga sports complex and descends the steps to the weight room that Stanford football shares with 35 other varsity teams. He walks to the running backs’ cubby across from the snack bar and grabs a folder with a record of all the workouts he’s ever done in his three years on The Farm. When Love arrived in 2015, the coaching staff didn’t quite know what to make of him. Stanford runs a complex, pro-style offense with an enormous, annoying playbook that challenges any teenager during the summer training camp. That complexity—plus a deep bench and an abject fear that young players will blow assignments that might result in a quarterback’s dismemberment more often than 20-something veterans do—means that Shaw doesn’t like to burn a true freshman’s redshirt unless absolutely necessary. But in one of Love’s first summer scrimmages, he got the ball on a weak side isolation play and casually sprinted 45 yards untouched into the end zone. Shaw looked wide-eyed at his then-offensive coordinator, Mike Bloomgren, saying nothing. He didn’t need to. “After that, it was over,” Shaw says now. Love would not be red shirting.
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