Shayne Skov's trademark Mohawk is history and his body weight is down, but the fifth year senior linebacker remains a massive presence on the Stanford football team.
Heading into his final season on The Farm, Skov, the fiery leader on one of the best defenses in the nation, will be a preseason All-American and one of the most important players on a top-10 squad.
And, for the first time in years, he's fully healthy. Last season, Skov had to overcome the lingering effects of the devastating knee injury he suffered early in the 2011 campaign.
"(I feel) completely different," Skov said after a recent practice. "(There were) times last year, playing with a little bit of pain, it was definitely stiff. I got some time off and was able to rest it, so I feel like I'm back and I'm ready to go."
Skov took advantage of the offseason to attend to his knee. Out of school in the winter term due to a university-mandated suspension stemming from a summer DUI, Skov made rehab a top priority.
"I stayed off it for about a month, just kind of let it heal on its own," Skov said. "I took a little bit of a rest. And then I started biking a lot. I was fortunate enough to be able to rehab with the staff still, and so just working with them on getting healthy finally and kind of building up that strength but also letting it calm down after a hard and rigorous season."
Along the way, Skov worked to shed some excess size. He dropped more than 10 pounds, and now weighs in the mid-230's. The effects of his weight loss have been noticeable, said Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
"Shayne Skov worked hard during this offseason to make his body presentable to the game," Mason said. "Whether it's Shannon Turley or whether it's our doctors, whether it's Shayne and his tremendous drive to get back and prove that he's one of the best linebackers in the country, I think what he's done, he's paid the price. He's paying the price every day to be better. And that's what you see. He looks faster. He looks stronger. He's competing at a high level. And right now, it's just fun to have him back out there playing."
When trying to quantify Skov's impact on the Stanford football program, one must look beyond his 237 career tackles and role on four bowl teams. More than six-and-a-half years ago, in September of 2007, Skov committed to Stanford as a rising high school junior. In the months that followed, he helped recruit one of the most productive recruiting classes in the history of Stanford football.
Since then, Skov has assumed an integral role not only on the field, but also in the locker room.
"He's been our emotional leader for three years and this year's not going to be any different," Stanford coach David Shaw said.
Skov's locker room speech before the USC game was credited as an impetus for the Cardinal's inspired performance against the Trojans. His constant energy in practices and games helps elevate the play of his teammates, Derek Mason said.
"He's constant energy," Mason said. "He's inertia. He's probably the definition of that. What he does every snap of every play, he's committed to trying to do his best. When you get that, it's infectious. You can't substitute that. We played well when Shayne was gone, we played extremely well. But what you feel from him when he's on the field is that energy. You're never out of it. There's always a chance, and I think that's what he brings: confidence."
Skov isn't taking anything for granted in his final season at Stanford. He, and the rest of Stanford's defense, is determined not to rest on its laurels. Individually, Skov hopes to prove his abilities in pass coverage are a strength of his game.
"More than anything I want to make sure this defense does well, whatever I have to do," Skov said. "And just be a leader. Probably work on my pass coverage a little bit. And then just coming back in the swing of things with my knee feeling healthy, footwork in pass coverage, more than anything be a leader and more than anything help this defense be the best it can be."
Skov will savor his final months on The Farm before moving on to the next level.
"It's gone by fast," Skov said. "This is an incredible place. You meet incredible people. So make sure I make the most of it and enjoy every moment."