STANFORD, Calif. (AP) As hard as the decision was last winter, Michael Rector knew there were many good reasons to return to Stanford for a fifth season and delay his NFL career.
He could pursue his education in human biology, become a more well-rounded receiver to improve his draft status and be better prepared for the NFL. He could also help the Cardinal accomplish one of the few things they haven't done yet during their recent run of excellence.
Stanford opened fall practice Monday with hopes of doing more than winning a fourth conference title in the past five seasons.
''We're kind of tired of just winning the Pac-12,'' Rector said. ''We want to do bigger and better things. Always the goal is to win the Pac-12, but hopefully we can go to the national championship. That's what we're working for.''
Rector's decision to return to school this year is a reason why the Cardinal could be in position to do just that despite entering camp with uncertainty about whether Keller Chryst or Ryan Burns ends up as the team's replacement for Kevin Hogan as starting quarterback.
With Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey back for a third season and game-breaking back Bryce Love poised to take on a bigger role in his second season, Rector's speed on the outside gives Stanford the potential for a diverse offense that will be extremely difficult to defend.
''It's really exciting,'' coach David Shaw said. ''Now we have three guys who run sub 4.4, fast and explosive, have game experience. They all have established roles but also have versatility where we can do more with them.''
The one question on offense for the Cardinal is whether Chryst or Burns will step up and seize the quarterback role that Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan excelled at so often the past seven years.
Rector said he's confident that either quarterback can do the job, especially with all the playmaking options Stanford has to relieve pressure on a first-year starter - especially when all three burners take the field at the same time.
''I think that will be scary for opposing defenses,'' Rector said. ''All three fast guys, all three can do something with the ball in their hands. It will be interesting to watch how defenses line up against that. I think we're going to be something to watch.''
Rector has become more than just a fast guy on the outside in his three seasons at Stanford. He had 34 catches for 559 yards and seven touchdowns last season when he helped the Cardinal finish third in the nation for their highest final ranking since being No. 2 in 1940.
He has added better route running, more consistent hands and elusiveness after the catch to the straight ahead speed that has made him so dangerous.
''It's been a progression throughout my career to show more versatility that I'm not just a deep guy,'' Rector said. ''I can do any route in the book. Now that I have that under my belt it was more about coming back and working in the details and make myself a better player.''
But it's his speed that will still have the biggest impact on Stanford's offense with the way it puts fear in opposing defenses.
''He's been making plays since he got here,'' fellow receiver Francis Owusu said. ''It's very exciting to have him back. He's such a deep threat. He helps make sure those DBs are playing back and that helps everyone. Having speed at receiver is always a good thing.''