Stanford fans might not yet be familiar with Michael Rector, but they soon may be. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound freshman wide receiver, who is redshirting this season, could emerge as the deep threat on offense the Cardinal has lacked in recent years.
Though an injury during fall camp derailed any chance Rector may have had at contributing as a true freshman, expectations remain high for the onetime University of Washington commit.
"Michael Rector is a guy that's very fast, very fluid and was playing really well until he had a little injury early in camp and that kind of set him back a little bit," said offensive assistant and former NFL player Aaron Moorehead, who works closely with Stanford's receivers. "Once he was able to come back some guys had surpassed him and Coach Shaw and Coach Hamilton decided that it was probably best to redshirt him and let him grow up a little bit, mature as not only a football player but as a young man."
Before the injury, Rector garnered plenty of buzz for his performance in the first few practices of fall camp.
"We came into camp in the summer (and) we started fast as a team and then I kind of banged up my knee a little bit and that took me out for a couple of weeks," Rector said. "That dropped me off a little bit, but I've been in the training room just getting better every day just trying to get back to where I was before and I'm feeling great right now."
Is he now back to full health?
"Yes sir," Rector said. "Feeling good."
Rector said that dealing with the "size of the playbook definitely and the speed of the players and the size of the players" has been the most difficult adjustment from high school to college. Working against Stanford's highly rated defense on a daily basis with the scout team have helped to accelerate his development.
"Going against the No. 1's on defense all the time, we're getting better constantly," Rector said. "We're pushing the No. 1's to try to make them better, make our defense better, but at the same time we're taking stuff back from that and learning little tricks and stuff of what we can do to get better against D-1 starting corners."
On an individual level, Rector has been working to regain his confidence in his legs following the injury.
"For me it's just been my plants and breaks, especially since I hurt my knee I was trying to get confidence back in my plants," Rector said. "But I'm feeling great about that right now. Just working on getting better every day."
Rector has gotten plenty of practice in multiple roles on the scout team.
"I think they've been using the speed that I have a lot," Rector said. "I've been playing out wide, playing "Z" a lot. But I've also been going in the slot, trying to get different looks on defense against me, but just trying to work to what I do, and hopefully get it going."
Rector will have ample opportunity to make a case to be a starter in 2013 over the next few months. He knows that the bowl practices and spring practice sessions could be a critical time in his development.
"These are huge for not just myself but for everyone fighting for a position," Rector said. "This is really what the coaches look at, how we practice right now, especially late in the season and then when spring ball comes around that's a big factor in how much playing time we can get next year, so very big."
In the meantime, Rector will focus on helping Stanford's defense prepare for the team's Rose Bowl opponent, Wisconsin. Rector is excited to make the trip down to Pasadena later this month.
"I didn't get to go last time (for Stanford's November clash with UCLA), so I'm excited this time," Rector said.
There's a solid chance that whenever Stanford returns to the Rose Bowl - be it for next season's Pac-12 championship game, the 2014 contest at UCLA, or even a return trip to the Grandaddy of Them All, Rector's role with the Stanford football team could be drastically different than it is now.
"He did a good job on scout team all year long," Moorehead said. "(He's) really fast, a guy that can stretch the field and a guy that we need to stretch the field next year."