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No Easy Catch

Only a ‘big’ pro baseball deal could lure gridiron MVP from football.

Alayna Lilak/Stanford Athletics

ANOTHER SEASON: After his record-setting football performance, Gerhart returns to Sunken Diamond.

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It’s baseball season, so Toby Gerhart has another field of opportunity in front of him. He chewed up the gridiron throughout the fall, winning the football team’s most valuable player award after setting a school record for single-season rushing. But that’s officially old news now that he’s concentrating on hitting curveballs instead of plowing through tacklers.

In Gerhart’s case, there’s more involved than the standard appreciation for an athlete’s two-sport exploits. He has said he might forgo the rest of his football career if he’s offered a particularly lucrative pro baseball deal after the June draft, so the stakes are high for Stanford as well as him. Still, the odds favor the football program, where guys with Gerhart-like grit and brawn are the epitome of what head coach Jim Harbaugh thinks players should be.

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VIDEO: Toby Gerhart, '10, describes the week-in, week-out physical toll that comes with being Stanford's star running back.

“I don’t have an exact number in mind,” says Gerhart, when musing about the contract size that would entice him to sign with a baseball team, “but it’s going to take something big.”

Think about it. The 6-foot-1, 232-pound Gerhart is so into the bone-jarring life of a running back that he’s not sure he can be paid to give it up. And then there’s the matter of having unfinished business.

“After the Cal game,” Gerhart says, “I had the feeling I’m not ready to be done playing football.”

That’s a reference to the season-ending loss in the Big Game that locked Stanford into a five-win season. A sixth victory, which eluded the Cardinal over the final three games, would have made the team eligible for a bowl. Gerhart is plainly uncomfortable with the idea of ending his football career on that note. Moreover, he’s a true believer in Harbaugh, who appears to be making huge recruiting strides as well as improving the win-loss record. “I know this program is going somewhere,” says Gerhart.

The football season was a putting-it-all-together statement by Gerhart, whose sophomore year ended almost as soon as it started because of a knee injury. Now he would like to assert himself in the same way as a baseball player after two injury-hampered seasons. He missed much of his freshman season because of a broken right forearm (from being hit by a pitch), and last season was an uphill climb because of the lingering effects of his knee problem. His junior year could be the one in which everything clicks, making him a key contributor to a team that includes his best friend and roommate, fellow outfielder Wande Olabisi.

The bond between Gerhart and Olabisi is uncannily strong—they say that Gerhart’s sisters constantly refer to them as twins—and it influences them on and off the baseball diamond. Olabisi thinks the most conspicuous trait they share is their persistent sense of motivation. “We’re always doing the same thing,” says Olabisi, “whether it’s studying or being in the weight room. We motivate each other.”

Gerhart’s resolve was in evidence last baseball season as he gradually worked through his knee issues and began to hit with authority. In late April, his batting average was an anemic .143. But over his final 27 games, he hit .323 with six doubles, one triple, six home runs and 18 runs batted in. Highlights included his 3-for-4 effort with three runs scored in Stanford’s 16-5 rout of Florida State in the College World Series (where Stanford went 2-2 and was eliminated by Georgia).

What may say the most about Gerhart is that the sheer delight of playing baseball at Stanford is as much on his mind as anything he can accomplish statistically. Looking ahead to the season, his first comments were about just getting back on the field and soaking up the atmosphere at Sunken Diamond.

“That field,” he declares, “is awesome.”

Into the Record Books

Toby Gerhart broke a record that went back to 1991 when he rushed for 103 yards in Big Game, reaching 1,136 for the season and surpassing the mark of 1,089 established by Tommy Vardell, ’91. Gerhart also notched 15 rushing touchdowns, but Vardell retained the top spot in that category with the 20 he scored in 1991.

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