After rushing for 342 yards in his first two seasons on The Farm, Tyler Gaffney had a break out year in 2011. The two-sport Stanford star rushed for 449 yards and seven touchdowns, and added 86 yards and one score in the passing game.
While many thought Gaffney's baseball prowess may have forced the conclusion of his football career after this past season, an average year on the diamond in 2011 may prompt Gaffney to extend his pigskin career for another year.
As a recruit, Gaffney was one of the most sought-after players in Southern California. He narrowed down an extensive list of offers to Notre Dame, USC, and Stanford before selecting the Cardinal.
Gaffney appeared on the recruiting radar early in his high school career. Gaffney was offered by UCLA as a sophomore, and for good reason, according to Central Catholic High school coach Sean Doyle.
"Tyler is a man-child," Doyle told Rivals.com in January of Gaffney's junior year."He's a man among boys and better yet he's a great character guy who is very coachable.
"As far as talent goes, he is just as big as Justin Green, now with the Baltimore Ravens, and Demetrius Sumler now with Colorado, but he's faster than the both of them."
Rivals.com held Gaffney in comparably high esteem. The site rated Gaffney the No. 66 player in the nation in its first Rivals 100 release in late-January of Gaffney's junior year.
Stanford offered Gaffney in February of his junior year, shortly after the Rivals ranking release.
However, for reasons that aren't apparent, Gaffney fell out of the Rivals 250. (One theory is that Rivals reclassified Gaffney from a tailback to a fullback at the time.)
That slide didn't stop colleges in their pursuit of the talented athlete. In mid-June, Pete Carroll and USC offered Gaffney as a fullback.
"I was shocked at the time," Gaffney told USCFootball.com. "I couldn't even be excited because I was so shocked."
Gaffney also told USCFootball.com that the Trojans were in his top-three after offering. Armed with a Trojan offer, Gaffney was one of the top performers at the USC Rising Stars camp in late-June. Gaffney ran a 4.71 40 on a slow track (which was faster than that of former South Carolina receiver extraordinaire Alshon Jeffrey), and showed off a variety of other impressive skills.
"Senior four-star fullback Tyler Gaffney of San Diego Cathedral Catholic tested well, clocking a 4.71 on a slow track," Rivals.com wrote at the time. "He also excelled as a receiver out of the backfield. He's got a very nice frame and could easily bulk up while still keeping his quickness. It's easy to see why the Trojans love him; he'd be a perfect fit in their offense."
Notre Dame followed USC, Stanford, and several others by offering in mid-July. Like USC, the Irish offered Gaffney as a fullback rather than a tailback.
Although the Notre Dame offer made enough of an impression to get Gaffney to consider taking an official visit to South Bend, Gaffney listed Stanford and USC as his two favorites during a late-August interview with Rivals.
"I don't have an overall favorite, but definitely the top of the charts is USC and Stanford in no order," Gaffney told Rivals. "I don't have a timetable for a commitment, but definitely before football is over." "
Although Gaffney added Notre Dame to his list of top schools soon after, his affection for Stanford didn't waver.
"Almost everything about the University attracts me," Gaffney told Rivals.com in November of his senior season. "The degree and the charisma and the atmosphere about Stanford and being there in that environment."
Gaffney also expressed his affinity for the Stanford coaching staff.
"I've met Harbaugh, and I knew him from USD (University of San Diego)," Gaffney said. "I like the coaching staff and the way they are improving their program. It's on an upward swing. It's really cool. They are doing better this year and have really improved the last two seasons."
Gaffney took his first official visit to Notre Dame in late November. He was positive about the trip.
"It was good; I had nothing to complain about," Gaffney told Irish Illustrated. "It's an amazing school.
"Notre Dame is a great school; I could definitely see me going there," he said. "I'm still going to take my other visits so I have something to compare it to."
Gaffney took his second official visit, to Stanford, in January. Although Gaffney had made multiple previous unofficial trips to Palo Alto, Gaffney gave his official visit to The Farm high marks.
"The Stanford visit went well," Gaffney told Rivals.com. "I liked everything about Stanford. There isn't anything about Stanford not to like.
"Stanford's campus is beautiful, the teachers are great and the coaches are awesome," Gaffney said. "I did not commit because I haven't been accepted by Stanford's admissions yet, but that's not the only reason that I didn't commit, I still have another visit to take."
Indeed, at the time Gaffney still had two loose ends in his recruitment: a trip to USC and an admissions decision from Stanford.
But only one of those events actually transpired.
After returning home from Palo Alto in mid-January, Gaffney got word that he had been admitted to Stanford. Later in the month, Gaffney decided to cancel his USC visit (which was planned for January 23rd) and to announce his college decision on Monday, Jan. 26, a day after he would have returned from Los Angeles.
The decision brought good news to the Cardinal faithful.
"I'm going to Stanford," Gaffney told Rivals.com. "Write it up."
Gaffney's commitment to Stanford was one reason why the Cardinal made Rivals.com's list of the top-five surprises of the 2009 recruiting cycle, a class that has played a significant role in the resurgence of Stanford football.