More than half a decade after the biggest upset in Stanford football history, Tavita Pritchard is a few weeks away from returning to the city of his greatest football triumph.
Pritchard, who memorably led Stanford to an enormous upset of then-No. 1 USC in 2007, has worked with Stanford football for the past two seasons as a defensive assistant. Though he played quarterback during his college career, Pritchard now focuses on tutoring Stanford's up-and-coming secondary.
Cardinal Sports Report caught up with Pritchard after today's practice to chat about the program's growth over the last few years and the defensive backs.
Cardinal Sports Report: You've obviously been here for plenty of ups and downs. What did the win last weekend in the Pac-12 title game mean to you?
Tavita Pritchard: I think it more than anything was a manifestation of where this program has come. Our goal has always been to win championships around here and win them year after year and compete for championships. We've competed the last couple of years but this is the first year that we've been able to get to that mountain top and hoist that trophy. Just proud of Coach Shaw and all of the guys, the whole staff, and all of the players, for actually getting there this year.
What is the biggest difference in the Stanford program now compared to during some of the leaner times when you were a player?
TP: I don't know if you could point to one difference. The thing I will say is that the guys around here, they're committed to being the best in everything they do, whether it's in the classroom, I know it's well-documented how good students our guys are. And it's also well-documented how good of football players they are and I think they wear that as a mantle. I think they really take that on as something that they feel is special and unique about this place, that they can be the best both on the classroom and on the field. And we're proving it.
CSR: Looking back, what was the importance of 2007 win over USC to the program?
TP: I think just that team in general, the program at that time was really just trying to find an identity. And I think it was one landmark, just one marker on the road to what you see now. Again, just like this Pac-12 game was a manifestation of where the program is now, that was a manifestation of kind of the attitude in that locker room and guys just wanting to be competitive, to be relevant, to be the best at everything they're doing. It was one landmark of many.
CSR: What has allowed the defensive backs to play such a high level this year?
TP: The thing we talk about the most in there is protecting our defense. And then just playing together. And they've done such a good job, and you've seen it over time. Not every game we've played our best game throughout, but when the time has come for them to rise to the challenge they haven't flinched. And that's kind of been their calling card all year. When they've been called upon to make plays they've done that. I'm just so proud of those guys for how they've played over the course of the season and play after play.
How has true freshman Alex Carter developed and what is the next step for him?
TP: Just like any of our guys, he's just got to continue what he's doing. So many of our guys do such a good job of coming out every day ready to work and get better and he's another example. With him being a young guy, it gets asked a lot: Will he take that next step? He's well on his way to taking that next step. It's just a matter of time for him. And we always tell him that. It's the same for all of our guys. You see all of our guys at one time or another having those breakthrough plays or performances and it's just about doing that consistently. And that's what it is for him. We tell him time and time again, you see him flash, and obviously toward the end of the season it's been more and more. But it's just about him being consistent.
Is it at all difficult to manage having four starting-caliber cornerbacks like you guys do?
TP: We go into the year just saying we want to have 22 guys that can play. That's been the difference this year is that we've had depth on defense. We have a bunch of guys who can play and roll in and out, and when you go against teams like Arizona and Oregon that go fast, you want to have guys that can roll. So we have safeties and corners and backers and d-line that can all play, and we're better for it.