Stanford Football

Samardzija still follows lessons learned on gridiron from Willingham

Samardzija still follows lessons learned on gridiron from Willingham

SAN FRANCISCO — Jeff Samardzija was a two-sport star in high school and at Notre Dame. He has played for four different big league organizations over 10 seasons, and spent parts of five seasons in the minor leagues. 

Samardzija had many options when asked to choose someone he wanted to honor at the annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, and given the way his career has played out, he made a somewhat surprising decision. During the event that airs on NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday night at 9 p.m., Samardzija will honor former Notre Dame football coach Tyrone Willingham, who finished the recruitment of Samardzija to Notre Dame but was let go before the wide receiver became a national star.

Samardzija said Willingham’s lessons during their two years together “have always stuck with me,” and like many of the athletes who have presented at the Game Changer Awards in recent years, he made his choice because of the things that were taught when the spotlight was off. 

“I think he was always, in a sense, coaching,” Samardzija said. “He was such a big attitude coach. He was always big about the way you approach things and handle things and look forward and just the way you carry yourself. There are great times in sports and then there are down times in your career, and how you handle both of those situations is always so important. 

“Also what stuck with me was just the way he never stopped teaching. He always found moments. If he saw you slacking in that given moment, he wasn’t afraid to jump all over you. He just was always about doing things the right way and pressing the fact that if you stay in that process over time, things are going to go in your favor.”

More than a decade after his football career ended, Samardzija is still taking that approach. He is the same after games whether the Giants won or lost, always pushing the need to move on from that day’s game and focus on the next one. Even in a 98-loss season, Samardzija was relentlessly positive, and on the mound he found improvements to his command that took parts of his game to a new level. 

Without Willingham, though, it’s possible that Samardzija never would have turned into a veteran starter known for cranking out one 200-inning season after the next. Samardzija went to Notre Dame on a football scholarship and Willingham didn’t have to let him play baseball in the spring. But Willingham had been a two-sport athlete himself at Michigan State, and he made it a priority to keep Samardzija well-rounded. 

“To have that power and to not abuse it, I’m forever grateful for it,” Samardzija said. “It takes a good man to be able to look forward and see what could be and to not prevent a kid his opportunities and limit his opportunities.”

For more from Samardzija on Willingham, his Notre Dame career, and the moves the Giants have made this offseason, check out his interview on the Giants Insider Podcast.

Love finishes as Heisman runner-up


Love finishes as Heisman runner-up

NEW YORK  — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has won the Heisman Trophy, completing a climb from walk-on to one of the most accomplished players in the history of college football.

The brash, flag-planting Sooners star became the sixth Oklahoma player to the win Heisman in one of the most lopsided votes ever.

Stanford running back Bryce Love was the runner-up, making it five second-place finishes for the Cardinal since 2009. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, last year's Heisman winner, was third, the best finish by a returning winner since Tim Tebow of Florida in 2008.

Mayfield received 732 first-place votes and 2,398 points. Love had 75 first-place votes and 1,300 points and Jackson received 47 and 793. Mayfield received 86 percent of the total points available, the third-highest percentage in Heisman history.

Mayfield is the third player to win the Heisman heading to the College Football Playoff. The second-ranked Sooners meet No. 3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. He is the first senior to win the award since Troy Smith of Ohio State in 2006 and the first Heisman winner to begin his career as a walk-on since athletic scholarships started in the 1950s.

"It's been a tough journey," Mayfield said during his acceptance speech. He choked back tears thanking his parents and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.

Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting two years ago and third last year. He entered this season as one of the favorites and jumped toward the front of the pack when he led the Sooners to an early victory at Ohio State that he celebrated by planting the OU flag in the Horseshoe turf.

He later apologized for that, but that has been Mayfield's career. Spectacular play fueled by grudges, slights and trying to prove doubters wrong. Moxie is the word that gets attached to Mayfield often, but at times poor judgment has gotten him in trouble on and off the field.

Those were really the only marks on Mayfield's Heisman resume because his play has been consistently stellar. He has thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns this season for the Big 12 champion Sooners (12-1). For his career, Mayfield is eighth in FBS history in yards passing (14,320) and sixth in touchdown passes (129). He is likely to leave college with the two best single-season passer ratings in major college football.

Pretty good for a scrawny kid who grew up in Austin, Texas, rooting for Oklahoma, but did not receive a scholarship offer out of high school from either the hometown Longhorns or his beloved Sooners.

At Lake Travis High School, Mayfield won a state championship at a school that regularly pumps out Division I quarterbacks. Mayfield was undersized at 6-1 and received just one offer from a Power Five program — Washington State.

Instead, he walked-on at Texas Tech and started eight games as a freshman. With a glut of quarterbacks in Lubbock, Mayfield left and had only one school in mind.

Oklahoma had Trevor Knight, coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama and with three more seasons left of eligibility, but that did not dissuade Mayfield.

Mayfield thanked former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who also was at the Best Buy Theater in midtown Manhattan, for welcoming a "chubby, unathletic kid into the program with open arms."

His departure from Texas Tech was contentious. At first, he lost a year of eligibility, despite not being on scholarship. Texas Tech could have given permission to waive the lost year, but did not.

Mayfield eventually got that year of eligibility back when the Big 12 tweaked its rules, but he never did let it go. For his last game against Texas Tech this season, he wore the "Traitor" T-shirt that some Red Raiders fans wore when he first returned to Lubbock with Oklahoma.

Later in the year, it was Kansas — or all teams — that tried to get the volatile Mayfield off his game. Jayhawks captains refused to shake his hand during the pregame coin flip. They trash-talked Mayfield and even took a late hit at him. He responded by screaming profanities and making a lewd gesture that television cameras caught. That led to a public apology from Mayfield, his third this year.

The first came after he was arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in February for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing. He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors and paid a $300 fine. The second came after that flag planting in Columbus, Ohio, after the Sooners beat the Buckeyes. Mayfield said before that early season showdown that the Buckeyes had irked him by celebrating on the Sooners' field in 2016.

Mayfield joins Jason White and Sam Bradford as Oklahoma quarterbacks who won the award since 2003. Only Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC have won more Heisman trophies with seven each.

Mayfield is an old-school winner. For decades, seniors dominated the Heisman, but over the last 10 years four juniors, four sophomores and two redshirt freshmen have won the Heisman. By comparison Mayfield has been around forever, that first season at Texas Tech coming in 2013. He has played 47 college games. Only USC's Carson Palmer with 50 had played more when he won his Heisman in 2002.

There is at least one more game to play for Mayfield, and maybe two. He and the Sooners will go into the playoff as a slight underdog against Georgia, which seems only appropriate for a player who has built his career on exceeding expectations.

USC hangs on to beat Stanford for Pac-12 football title


USC hangs on to beat Stanford for Pac-12 football title

SANTA CLARA — Sam Darnold threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns and engineered a back-breaking 99-yard drive in the fourth quarter to lead No. 11 Southern California to a 31-28 victory over No. 14 Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night.

Darnold threw touchdown passes to Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns to stake the Trojans (11-2, No. 10 CFP) to the lead. He then delivered one of the biggest plays of the game when he stepped up to avoid pressure in the end zone before connecting on a 54-yard pass to Pittman to spark the key touchdown drive in the fourth.

Ronald Jones finished that drive with an 8-yard run that made it 31-21 to cap a productive night where he ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns to give USC its first win in a Pac-12 championship game.

The long drive came after USC stuffed Stanford (9-4, No. 12) at the goal line to preserve the lead. With Bryce Love nursing an injured ankle on the sideline, Cameron Scarlett was stopped on successive runs from inside the 2, including a fourth-down try from the 1 that was stopped by Uchenna Nwosu.

Darnold sealed the game with a 15-yard pass to Josh Falo on fourth-and-2 to let USC run out the clock.

The win gives USC a season sweep against Stanford and will likely send the Trojans to the Fiesta Bowl. USC still holds out hope for a spot in the four-team playoff if there are several upsets in other conference title games on Saturday but the chances appear to be remote.


STANFORD: Love ran for 125 yards and had his FBS-record 12th run of at least 50 yards that set up K.J. Costello's 11-yard TD pass to Kaden Smith that cut USC's lead to 24-21 late in the third quarter. Costello added a 28-yard TD pass to Smith with 2:09 remaining but wasn't nearly consistent enough to keep pace with Darnold. Costello finished 10 for 22 for 192 yards.

USC: The Trojans had a balanced offensive performance with Pittman catching seven passes for 146 yards and Jones doing solid work on the ground. The defense came up with the big stop at the goal line. But it probably won't be enough to overcome the earlier losses at Washington State and Notre Dame to lift the Trojans into the playoff even if they get help Saturday.


Both teams will get their bowl bids on Sunday with USC likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford expected to go to the Holiday Bowl.