Killion: Bay's biggest football star? Kid Luck


Killion: Bay's biggest football star? Kid Luck

Ann KillionCSNBayArea.comWhos the most famous active football player in the Bay Area?

Its not even close. And its not a member of one of our professional football teams.

The most famous active football player in the Bay Area is a 21-year old architectural engineering major from Stanford.

Andrew Luck.

Luck doesnt come off as the most famous football player in the land. He doesnt act like the hottest collegiate athlete on the globe. He doesnt carry himself like a guy that has the most powerful sports league in the country swooning over him.

He looks at himself as just a college kid, said his coach David Shaw.

And he is just a college kid. Speaking to the Bay Area this week, Luck was just a regular guy, albeit a nervous one. His knee jiggled spasmodically the entire time he was answering questions at a Bay Area football media day. He pulled on his fingers. He seemed like hed rather be just about anywhere else.

Hes the rare player that doesnt like all the attention, Shaw said. He just loves playing football.

Football will be different this season at Stanford. There are changes and there are ridiculous expectations. Improve on a 12-1 season? Compete for a national championship? Even a year ago, no one would have dreamed up such stuff. But last year and Lucks performance changed Stanfords world.

NEWS: Stanford sixth in Top 25 poll, Sooners No. 1

One expectation is that Luck the Heisman runner-up last year will win the trophy awarded to the most outstanding player in the land.

I try to take that in stride, he said. I understand, playing this position and being there last year, its natural for my name to be brought up. Im more focused on our team goal of winning a Pac-12 championship.

Another change is that there will be even more of the focus on Luck, without Jim Harbaughs larger-than-life presence distracting the spotlight.

Hes full of energy, he had a lot of attention on himself, Luck said of his former coach. He would walk in and command a room. Coach Shaw is a little more laid back, quiet.

That seems more in line with Lucks personality. Hes pretty laid back and doesnt seem to fully embrace the spotlight. At Pac-12 media day, he got a lot of attention for growing an Amish style, no-mustache beard. There was even a split screen image circulated comparing Luck and Brian Wilson.

But Luck showed up last week clean-shaven.

It was impulsive, he said of his decision It had to go.

He paid appropriate homage to the King of Facial Hair.

I do fear his beard, Luck said of Wilson.

Luck will get his degree next spring, shortly after he becomes the top draft pick in the 2012 draft, barring some unforeseen development. Hell get a year free of being badgered about whether or not hell turn pro. But that wont change the pressure that surrounds him, both this year and in the draft.

Luck is not a Twitter guy so he hasnt seen the hashtags circulating among Twitter-users who follow lousy NFL teams, particularly 49er followers. Those users have started to tag their tweets Suck4Luck. Translation: be lousy enough to get the top draft pick and win the Luck sweepstakes.

That seems a little stupid to me, Luck said.

Luck came back to Stanford to enjoy his final year as a college student and one more year in the Stanford jersey, though he notes that he wont be getting melodramatic, about his final Cardinal days.
REWIND: Stanford's Luck NFL-bound after this season

This will be a high stress year. Already the all-time Stanford leader in winning percentage, completion percentage and passing efficiency, Luck is closing in on other school records. And with both Oregon and USC reeling with NCAA issues, Stanford has a chance to do something special in the conference and in a bowl game.

Luck said he just wants to get better: at footwork, at reading defenses, at being a leader. He said he still gets nervous before games.

I dont throw up, he said. Im a little turned off by that. I try to stay cool and collected. I used to get a little more excited, but Ive mellowed out a little bit.

While he talked, his knee jiggled non-stop.

The most famous active football player in the Bay Area is still just a kid.

Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs


Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs

Raiders receiver Amari Cooper has been creating steady separation for a few weeks now. That didn’t break him out of a prolonged slump.

Coaches were impressed by Cooper’s route running in a Week 5 loss to Baltimore. It only earned two targets and an eight-yard catch. They tried to find No. 89 more often in a Week 6 loss to the L.A. Chargers, though six targets generated five short catches for 28 yards.

Low production stretched through a four-game losing streak, with nine catches for 51 yards. Including stats from to early wins, Coopers season stats (18 catches, 146 yards and a touchdown) were worse than nearly 200 others.

Even that astonishment didn’t make Cooper demand the gosh darn football, please. The low-key Cooper attitude: The ball will find me.

It finally did in Thursday night’s 31-30 victory over Kansas City. Several times in fact.

Cooper had 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted 19 times. Nineteen. That’s no coincidence.

They moved him around, including significant snaps in the slot. He was targeted 11 times from that position, per analytics site Pro Football Focus, and produced six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.

They schemed opportunities and quarterback Derek Carr used them to create big plays early.

Carr’s first pass went 12-yards to Cooper. His third was a 38-yard touchdown strike. His seventh was an in-stride delivery that Cooper took across and then up the field for a 45-yard score.

Just like that, Cooper was off and running for the first time this year.

“We put him in positions to make plays, obviously,” Carr said. “We knew that there were certain things that we liked. Nothing changed in his demeanor or his mentality or the way he worked or anything like that. We just stayed the course. We know what we have here and we know that if we just stay the course and work and grind through the tough times.

“…For ‘Coop’ to just continue to grind and get on the other side of it, I just felt good for him. You guys know Amari. I think we all felt good for him.”

Cooper said the early explosive touches provided confidence. Ability produced a signature performance. The Alabama product is excellent extending production with his legs, and had 78 of his yards come after the catch. That’s an average of 7.1 yards after the catch per reception, per PFF.

His second touchdown reached him 15 yards downfield, and he hit the jets and reached the end zone. He turned a short catch into 15 crucial yards to start the game-winning two-minute drill, and later high pointed a 39-yard receptions.

“The way he finished after the catch was really special,” Carr said. “Obviously, we all know he can go up and get a ball and all those things. That second touchdown where he cam across, the burst that he had, that’s freakish. Not a lot of guys have that. To turn the jets on like that and just out run the angles of the defense, that was really special. I think just after the catch he just played with some dog in him, which we know he has. We were able to get him the ball and let him shine and do what he does.”

Cooper’s showcase was vital to a huge victory that kept his team in the hunt. It also ended a rough month where Cooper and the Raiders both struggled. Veteran running mate Michael Crabtree was never concerned with the downturn and told the young receiver to stay the course during tough times.

“(I told him), ‘Just be you,’” Crabtree said. “It’s just about everything coming together. Coop’s a fighter, man. Coop has got skills. I don’t worry about Coop and I’m sure he doesn’t worry about me. That’s why we are so good together.”

The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks


The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

Whenever the NHL's schedule comes out, a trip to Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers is usually a highlight. A matchup against one of the league's biggest teams, in the country's biggest city, in a historic venue? That's a date worth circling.

If the San Jose Sharks circle it, it’s for entirely different reasons.

Throughout the entirety of the franchise’s 26-season existence, the Garden has been anything but welcoming. The Sharks have traveled to the world’s most famous arena 17 times, and have only skated off with a win four times. They didn’t even win a game there until October 19, 1999, in San Jose’s eighth appearance in the building.

Madison Square Garden has been “King” Henrik Lundqvist’s castle against the Sharks. The king in the castle is also the moat surrounding it: In four career appearances against San Jose at home, Lundqvist has only allowed four goals.

The Sharks haven’t been able to solve his squires, either, losing games to two of his most recent back-ups: Martin Biron, now on television, and Antti Raanta, now in Arizona. Lundqvist will likely start on Monday night, but if he doesn’t, this is probably the one instance where San Jose wouldn’t want to face Ondrej Pavelec, even though he’s never managed to eclipse a .920 save percentage in a season.

That’s because the team’s most recent appearances at the Garden have been among their worst. The Sharks have been shut out twice in their last four visits to Manhattan, and have only scored five goals over that span. They did manage to win one game, thanks to a Lundqvist-like shutout from then-goaltender Antti Niemi in 2014.  

Martin Jones, on the other hand, has been decidedly unlike Lundqvist. He’s allowed nine goals on 55 shots in two road starts against the original six franchise, good for an .837 save percentage. The skaters in front of him exactly helped Jones, either. The Sharks have played from behind in their last two trips to Madison Square Garden, failing to score first and trailing after the first two periods both times.

Those recent struggles are especially strange, given Peter DeBoer’s relative success in the building. He won big road games against the Rangers before assuming his role behind the Sharks’ bench, most notably two in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, when DeBoer’s Devils upset the top-seeded Rangers. Once you coach this team in that arena, though, all bets are off.

Somehow, in a month known for horror, there may be nothing scarier than the thought of the Sharks playing in Madison Square Garden.