Saturday, January 01, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Cardinal's Marecic never takes a play off — literally

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — At long last, here he is: the one red-blooded American male who actually likes commercials during football games.

His name is Owen Marecic. He plays football at Stanford. And don’t dare say he’s not a red-blooded American male for thinking this way. He’s liable to crush you — breaking his helmet in the process, like he’s done countless times in his career. He’ll probably apologize later for losing his cool (he’s more polite than most), but you’d still feel it.

Anyway, back to the commercials. Yeah, Marecic likes them. He didn’t always. Used to be, when the official blew that whistle and went to break, Marecic would be pacing on the sidelines, eager to get back on the field.

But that was before this year, when he became the rarest of the rare: an athlete in a BCS conference who starts every game on both offense and defense.
Why? When? How? Marecic wonders just like you do. He didn’t ever plan for this to happen.

“But there was no question once coach asked, I was going to give it a shot,” he said.

That’s Marecic. Considerate. Thoughtful. Which is to be expected. His mom is a high school secretary and his dad is the director of communications for the state of Oregon. Both their jobs — like many jobs — mostly entail pleasing others.

There might not be a college football player anywhere who has pleased his coach more than Marecic has pleased his (if there is, though, his first name rhymes with Plyrod).

“He’s just one of those people that come into your life and you’re just showered by the qualities he has,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He’s the kind of guy that makes you a better person, makes me a better person just being associated around him.”

Marecic makes Harbaugh a better football coach, too. On offense, he earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors as a fullback. On defense, he was an honorable mention all-conference pick as a middle linebacker.

Nationally, the American Football Coaches Association made him an All-American as an all-purpose player. And rarely has that “all-purpose” label seemed more appropriate.

Marecic, after all, is on the field roughly 110 plays a game.

“I’ve never met a guy like Owen Marecic in all my years of coaching,” Harbaugh said. “It will never happen again. At the level he’s [playing both ways], it won’t be done again, in my opinion.”

There have been a few days when Marecic’s wondered if he could do it, too. Specifically, that first day he tried it against Oregon last year, a regular fullback simultaneously filling in for an injured linebacker.

“It was definitely a rush,” Marecic said. “It was a lot of fun, but at that time I don’t think I was really ready for it — especially mentally. It took a while to learn the defense.

“Between that year and this year, we switched defensive coordinators. That was a great chance to learn from the ground up, to learn along with everybody else.”

He has, splitting everything — film study time, practice reps — evenly between offense and defense. He’s started all 12 games for the Cardinal on both sides of the ball. In Stanford’s 37-14 win over Notre Dame on Sept. 25, Marecic scored two touchdowns just seconds apart, first on a 1-yard fullback dive and then on a pick-six.

His teammates are in awe (“The guy is not human,” says Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov), and so are opposing players.

“It’s really unbelievable,” Virginia Tech defensive lineman John Graves said. “At this level of game play, you’re pretty tired after a good number of plays. For him to have that [cardiovascular health] and conditioning, and when you consider how many hits he might take a game, especially for a linebacker and fullback, that’s a long season. That shows you the toughness of their program and the toughness of that guy.”

Marecic’s secret? Make the most of his down time, which isn’t plentiful.

“I’m definitely enjoying the TV timeouts a lot more these days,” he said with a laugh. “It gives me a chance to catch my breath and rest.”

He also uses Sundays as a chance to recoup, provided he’s finished his homework. The senior is an Academic All-American studying human biology — one of the toughest majors on campus, according to Harbaugh.

“I’m sure he’ll be a two-way player once he leaves here,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll find a way to be an NFL player and to be curing the world somehow.”
And likely be an All-Pro at both.

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