One of the breakout players of Stanford's offseason has been junior defensive lineman Aziz Shittu. After receiving minimal playing time in his freshman and sophomore seasons, the former five-star recruit earned rave reviews from the coaching staff during spring ball, and has maintained a high level of play throughout fall camp.
As a result, Shittu has cemented himself as one of Stanford's top defensive linemen and is line to receive plenty of playing time in the 2014 season.
Cardinal Sports Report caught up with Shittu after a recent practice to discuss his growth and development as a player.
Cardinal Sports Report: You played some in your freshman and sophomore years, but then this spring everyone really raved about your play. What changed for you this spring? Was there anything, or was it just natural growth and development?
Aziz Shittu: It was kind of just re-evaluating my process and how I was going about things and what do I need to do out here on the practice field to get better, become a better football player every day, work hard every day, to be the player I want to be. That's kind of what happened.
CSR: Was there anything that sparked your re-evaluation? Was there a moment that you remember as like, 'Wow, I need to take another look at this?'
AS: Just seeing an opportunity in spring, knowing there was an opportunity there. And at my age, I'm a junior now, true junior, so knowing that my time clock is ticking, so I need to start getting going. That was really big.
CSR: So how has the re-evaluation paid off? How has that increased focus improved your game?
AS: It's definitely improved my game tremendously. (I've been) coming out here and focusing in every drill, trying to be perfect, trying to be a technician and to do everything right. Because if I do everything right now, I'll do everything right in the game.
CSR: Are there specific parts of your game, whether it be pass rush, run, whatever, that you feel like, 'Wow, I'm a lot better at this now than I was then?'
AS: Definitely my physicality in the run game. Definitely being more physical in the run game - not everything needs to be finesse. So definitely being more physical.
CSR: Going back to your first two years, you came in here as a five-star recruit. The expectations are what they are. Was that at all challenging for you, to come in and maybe not play as much as you were hoping?
AS: It was definitely tough for me, definitely tough for me. That was kind of the big thing - I believed in the hype that I had and I believed in everything but it wasn't the work that I needed to put in. So that was kind of big for me - I needed to work hard and they hype was over. All the high school stuff, the hoopla, when you come to the practice field you have to work hard every day and earn your right to play.
CSR: The top four defensive linemen (Shittu, Blake Lueders, Henry Anderson, David Parry) are pretty much set. There are a bunch of guys competing for time behind you - what have you seen from some of the other defensive linemen that don't necessarily have roles set quite yet?
AS: From top to bottom we've been doing a great job. To name guys that (stick out to me), I don't mean to leave anybody out, but guys like Luke (Kaumatule), Nate (Lohn) and Alex Yazdi have all gotten better working out here every day, putting in the work before practice, after practice, during practice, and have really gotten a lot better.
CSR: On a different note, in your recruitment you kind of had a twitter catch phrase. Have you thought about the trademark Aziz Shittu sack dance? Have you gotten that far?
AS: (Laughing) No, right now I'm just focused on coming out here every day and practicing hard. If I had a sack I'd celebrate with my teammates, that's what we want to do, so that's what we're here for.
CSR: Last thing - who is the hardest offensive lineman for you to go against in practice?
AS: I go against Andrus Peat a lot, so that's great work. He's one of the best tackles in the nation. So going against him every day is great work, and he's also my roommate. So it's good to go against him.