Former Dons standout to play at Stanford

Tyler Gaffney needed no introductions when he walked the hallways of Cathedral Catholic High.

The former two-sport prep standout enjoyed near-celebrity status on the Carmel Valley campus, where he became a modern-day sports legend leading the Dons to back-to-back section titles in football and baseball and a state football title, rewriting the section record books along the way.

Gaffney is now a freshman readying to start his freshman football season at Stanford, where at least for now he is just another new kid, no longer the most recognizable face on his team, let alone the intensely competitive Pacific 10 Conference.

And although he’s no longer in a small pond, Gaffney is determined to show that he is still a big fish.

“I feel like every play I’m trying to earn someone’s respect, whether it’s a coach or whether it’s a player,” Gaffney said after a recent practice. “I want to show them that I’m not hyped up and that I’m not just a number, that I’m actually a player.”

The early returns suggest he’s starting to make his mark.

Gaffney, a 6-foot-tall, 211-pounder who played fullback at Cathedral Catholic, is competing for the No. 2 tailback job, an almost unheard of role for a true freshman in Div. I football.

He’s done all he can to make his candidacy nearly impossible to ignore.

On a fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line in a recent practice scrimmage, Gaffney was involved in a violent collision in which his helmet flew off as two defenders pounded him near the goal line. A bloodied Gaffney suffered a broken nose on the play, but true to the form for anyone familiar with his work at Cathedral Catholic, he kept going, scoring a touchdown on the play.

“I was bleeding everywhere, but it was a good feeling,” he said with a smile. “But the next night, I was like damn, that (expletive) hurts!”

Stanford coaches took note of Gaffney’s effort on the play.

“He wasn’t running as hard as we wanted him to, and I kind of got on him a little bit before that (play),” Stanford running backs coach Willie Taggart said. “I guess he just kind of said, ‘I’m going to show you folks,’ and then on the next play, he did.”

Gaffney’s nose for the end zone - broken, bloodied or otherwise - comes as no surprise to Cathedral Catholic coach Sean Doyle, who coached him on the varsity team since calling him up late in his freshman year for a playoff run.

“Broken nose and he didn’t stop … that’s just (Gaffney), that’s who he is,” Doyle said. “It’ll be interesting to see what he does there.”

And Doyle was only talking about the half of it.

In addition to stellar academics, Gaffney said he picked Stanford because it’s given football players its blessings to play other sports.

Gaffney will also play outfield for the Cardinal’s baseball team in the spring, as does senior two-sport standout Toby Gerhart. Gerhart plays the same positions as Gaffney in both sports.

And like Gerhart, who went to Norco High, Gaffney was named CalHighSports’ Mr. Football and Athlete of the Year. Other CalHighSports’ Athlete of the Year recipients include former USC and Los Angeles Raiders star running back Marcus Allen.

“Just to be mentioned with those names who’ve already won, it was amazing,” Gaffney said. “To win, it was an honor.”

Gaffney isn’t sure which sport will take him further. He says playing both baseball and football professionally is an unlikely scenario, noting that the business of professional sports has become more specialized in the last 15 years or so since Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders played both sports.

Gaffney still follows Dons football, and is bullish on their outlook for this season.

He says he cherishes his Dons memories, especially the camaraderie of going to and winning the Div. II state title last year against St. Mary’s of Stockton.

“Everything about it,” he said with a smile.

“Getting ready for it, hanging out with the team before and after … getting announced that we were even going to play; we had a little lunch and we were all waiting and they were going through each team and it just seemed longer and longer. Then they announced our team, and we just exploded.”