Can you believe the college football season starts in less than a week? Sadly, that means summer is quickly coming to an end, but we’ll take that trade-off with college (and pro) football arriving, as well as fall. This season, A Lot of Sports Talk will provide you with interviews of players, journalists and other people associated with the game once a week in an installment called Friday Football Fix (FFF).
Our first edition of FFF takes a look at the Stanford Cardinal, specifically, All-American candidate Ben Gardner. The fifth-year defensive end spoke with us for a one-on-one as the Cardinal look to make a return trip to the Rose Bowl this season, but this time, for the 2014 BCS National Championship Game (being held in Pasadena).
Among other topics, We speak about the excitement of starting a new season, life as a student-athlete at Stanford University and video games. Enjoy!
A Lot Of Sports Talk: What’s the most exciting part about the 2013 season kicking off in just a week’s time?
Ben Gardner: It’s just exciting to finally get to play somebody else. Guys for two weeks now have seen the same faces across the line of scrimmage. Especially on our offensive line, we got some big bodies over there that aren’t the most fun to play against, so we’re just excited and fired up to go up against somebody else. We can’t wait.
ALOST: Anyone specifically on the Stanford offensive line that you are sick of going up against?
BG: Well, it’s the double teams, especially when you’re taking on 650 pounds sometimes. In the Pac-12, we don’t see quite as much of that as on our team, so I’m excited to get away from that and see some more one-on-ones.
ALOST: What about the Stanford football program allows it to groom so many players from being rotational players to start to All-Conference, All-America performers?
BG: I think it’s just the way that we play as a team. Our coaches do a great job of clearly defining our individual jobs and responsibilities. We’re not a selfish team, so everybody goes out there and does their jobs and it allows us to make the plays that come to us. You don’t have to try to do too much in our scheme. If you just do your job and you’re in the right place, the plays kind of come to you, and that’s how I, and all the other players on our team have been able to make a name for us.
ALOST: What is the biggest similarity –and biggest difference – between your former head coach Jim Harbaugh and (current Stanford head coach) David Shaw?
BG: I would say the biggest similarity is competitiveness. Two of the most competitive guys I have ever been around. They show it in a very different way, and I think that’s the biggest difference. Harbaugh is a lot more flamboyant, I guess you could say. He shows his feelings on his sleeves. But Coach Shaw is every bit as competitive, he’s just a lot more reserved. As you get to know him for a couple of years, you start to see that it really irks him when the defense gets the best of the offense in practice, and he’s in a lot better mood when the offense gets the best of us. People outside the program don’t necessarily see that.
ALOST: What was your initial reaction when it was announced that (former Oregon head coach) Chip Kelly was leaving the Pac-12 to coach in the NFL?
BG: Happy for him. Always happy to see the Pac-12 do well. But knowing what they do up there at Oregon and their system and their coaching staff, we know not a lot is going to change up there. They do what they do, and they do it very well, so no reason to change their system. We always love playing against them because I feel like it’s a great clash of two different styles and it always makes for an exciting football game.
ALOST: The past three years, you have been the Orange Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl and the Rose Bowl. Of those three, which was your best bowl game experience?
BG: They were all phenomenal experiences. But, coming from the Pac-12, definitely have to go with the Rose Bowl. It symbolizes that you ARE the Pac-12 champions. Ever since my class came in as freshmen, that was the goal that was laid out in front if us: win the Pac-12 championship, and we are going to the Rose Bowl. So those first two BCS games were great, but in the back of our minds, we knew we didn’t accomplish our ultimate goal, and finally we were able to get that done last year.
ALOST: Is the Pac-12, top-to-bottom, on a par with the SEC, the conference that is considered to be the gold standard of college football? If so, why? And if not, why not?
BG: I don’t’ think we’ve done enough as a conference to make that claim yet. The SEC’s track record speaks for itself. They’ve won a countless number of national championships in a row. But at the same time, there are a lot of competitive teams in this conference that won’t back down from anybody. Here at Stanford, we pride ourselves on the fact that we’ll go play anybody on any day. We’re not afraid. We’d love to get the opportunity to play one of those teams in the SEC and represent our conference in the right way.
ALOST: When you’re not immersed in football and being at one of the premier institutions of higher learning at Stanford, what are your diversions?
BG: School obviously takes up a lot of my life at Stanford. It’s an interesting culture around here. There’s a lot of diversity, a lot of different things to do. But as I’ve gotten older, I kind of just lie low a little more. I like to play a lot of video games. I like to keep very competitive. Even off the field, my teammates get together and do anything to keep the competitive fire going, and video games is the main outlet for that.
ALOST: What is the one video game where you and your teammates are most competitive?
BG: It’s got to be NBA 2K13…
ALOST: Who’s your team?
BG: I’m a Milwaukee Bucks fan, but I don’t really run with them in the game. They’re not very good. So I go with the Spurs.
ALOST: Speaking of Milwaukee, well, more to the state of Wisconsin, talk about your hometown of Mequon (MEH-kwan), Wisconsin and describe the town to us.
BG: It’s a suburb, about 12 miles north of Milwaukee. It’s not as rural as a lot of people would think, when talking about suburban areas in the state of Wisconsin. The thing that people who haven’t visited Wisconsin will find out real quick is that the people there are as friendly as any body in the country. It’s just a really family-oriented town and I was blessed to be raised there, and couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my childhood.
ALOST: Going back for a second, were you upset that the Spurs lost to the Heat in the NBA Finals, since you play with the Spurs on NBA2K13?
BG: Nah. It’s simply on a video game level with the Spurs. I just appreciate greatness. I love watching LeBron (James) and Tim Duncan and all those guys, and it was a great series.