Country Strong: Stanford center Graham Shuler on his Nashville roots, watching TV and David Shaw's game face

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Most people wrote off Stanford after the Cardinal's 16–6 loss to Northwestern in Week 1, and understandably so. But all center Graham Shuler and his teammates have done since that defeat is run off five consecutive wins, including an impressive 41–31 victory over USC on Sept. 19, and a 56–35 thumping of UCLA on Oct. 15. Stanford hosts Washington on Saturday. Earlier this week, Shuler took some time to catch up with Campus Rush.

Lindsay Schnell: Christian McCaffrey has suddenly jumped into the Heisman race, but you see him every day in practice—what makes him so good?

Graham Shuler: Christian has that special drive, that x-factor, the "it factor"—every intangible that you can measure. My favorite story about Christian, that embodies who he is: We do this thing here called the Gator Run. It's one of our most intense off-season training things. It's when you load up one of those utility vehicles, like a Gator, with 600 pounds in the back and three coaches are riding in it. We push it all around campus, and it's a sprint.

It's really, really tough. You rotate guys pushing it. A lineman will push anywhere from three to 10 times. A tight end will push it maybe 15 times. A running back pushes it somewhere between 10 to 20 times. It's really rare for anyone to push it over 20 times. When we did it this summer, Christian pushed it 43 times. He took 43 turns. No one told him to do that; it wasn't the expectation. But when guys were getting tired, Christian was always right there, in the front, waiting. I hope you can imagine the chaos of 60 guys chasing a small vehicle around campus. That's Christian in a nutshell.

LS: I can't believe coaches ride on it, too. I feel like there should be a time when players ride on it and coaches push it. Maybe after a big win?

GS: Oh, coaches do it with us and they'll try to get in there to push, but you can't let them. That's a whole other part of the work out, is to keep coaches away.

LS:Speaking of coaches, a lot of people talk about how [head coach] David Shaw never seems to react emotionally, and how he doesn't change his facial expression. After the trick play last week—and receiver Francis Owusu's incredible touchdown catch—what did you think when you saw video of Shaw's face?

GS: I had an interesting perspective on it. On TV, it's coach Shaw and I walking by each other. My jaw was on the ground the whole time that happened and several minutes following that. When I walked by, he said, "I don't know what to say." And he just had this look of wonderment on his face.

LS:Do you own one of the Fifty Shades of Shaw T-shirts?

GS:(Laughs.) No, I don't have one of those. I wish I did.

LS:In the last few years Stanford has really embraced the nerd stereotype. With that in mind, what's the nerdiest thing you do on a regular basis?

GS: Oh, gosh. I'm pretty nerdy with film and TV stuff. I don't just watch a lot of Netflix, I'm constantly researching as I'm watching, looking up different directors and other projects going on.… I don't watch TV like other people do. I watch very critically. I'm often taking notes. I follow a lot of newsy things on Twitter, too. Hopefully that doesn't come bite me in the tail. I wouldn't consider myself one of the more extreme nerdy guys on the team, but I definitely have my moments.

LS: What's your favorite TV show?

GS: Right now I'd say Borgia, a Netflix show I watched this summer. But my favorite TV show of all time is Entourage.

LS:Solid choice. Stanford's loss to Northwestern surprised a lot of people. How have you been able to rally and put yourselves in a position to contend for the Pac-12 title?

GS: We've come together. This place is so special. People come to Stanford from all across the country. You look at our depth chart and guys are from Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, California, Washington.… When you come here as a freshman, all you have are your brothers—your teammates, the guys you're playing with. That makes you resilient. After that first game, we all knew we had so much more in us. We messed up, and [we] knew we had to pull together.… That's what I love about these guys. When that whistle blows, and our backs are against the wall, we know we're going to do something special.


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LS:As you point out, people come from all over the country—including you. You're from Nashville, and you were raised by two former SEC athletes. What's your argument for why the Pac-12 is truly the best football conference in America?

GS: Well, I'm not getting paid yet to go on TV and talk about my opinion. [The SEC and the Pac-12 are] both phenomenal conferences. I grew up watching the SEC. You have these powerhouse programs like Alabama and Auburn, and then programs like Texas A&M joining. It's what makes the SEC a special place. But it's matched, if not outdone, by the Pac-12.

What's been going on in the Pac-12 the last couple years has been really exciting, with the speed of the game, the athletes in space. Then you add Stanford to the mix, lining up and pounding the ball. I'm really excited and really hopeful that someday this argument will have some facts behind it. But right now, all you can look at is the SEC vs. Pac-12 matchups the last couple years. I don't know all of them off the top of my head, but I think the results from those, that's what my answer would have to be.

LS:You're really close with quarterback Kevin Hogan. What he went through with losing his father last year was brutal. Did your view of him change? Do you respect him even more now?

GS: First of all, it'd be wrong not to mention that his birthday is this week [Oct. 20], so happy birthday, Kev. We had a big day [at practice] yelling that he's the oldest guy here now, giving him a hard time about that.

I adore Kevin. Kevin's like a brother to me. This team, we're all very close and I'm very fortunate to have Kevin and walk through life with him. He's one of the truest friends I've ever had, an all-around amazing guy. I was with him pretty much every day last year, and I found out from a third party that his dad was sick. I didn't say anything for a couple weeks until he finally told me the news. I can't say that I respect Kevin any more [than I did before], because I already respected him more than anybody else.

If you look at the last few years, you want to talk about a coming of age story, you look at Kevin. What an unbelievable tale. I'm honored that he calls me a friend, that he says he's close with me, that I get to play with him. I hate that he had to go through that tragedy, but I know his dad is sitting in the front row of every one of our games with the biggest smile on his face. I lost my grandfather last week, and Kevin was by my side the whole time, checking in on me. He texted my dad before the UCLA game, "Our dads are having a beer together, watching this game." My dad's response was, "Yeah, your dad better not get my dad to start cussing up there and get thrown out of heaven!"

LS:I know you were really close with your grandfather, who played football at Marshall. What's the most important thing he taught you?

GS: Since I was young, my grandfather would always call me and ask, "What's going on with school? Tell me about school." I'd tell him about what classes I was taking, and [he would respond] with a two- or three-minute story on when he took a similar class. For a long time he used to talk to me about being stationed at Treasure Island, and I'd be like, "Grandpa has gone crazy, there's no such thing as Treasure Island!" But it's in the Bay Area!

He was raised in a coal-mining area of West Virginia, the son of an electrician and a miner. [He taught me] about being blue collar, hard work … do things yourself, take care of yourself. One of my favorite memories, he caught me staying up late at his house, I was probably 11. I was watching The Junction Boys and he came downstairs, saw me and sat down next to me to watch it, talking to me about his days of playing football at Marshall, and being with the Navy at different spots. I cherish those memories.

LS:My understanding is that your mom and brother are musicians. You're from Nashville—do you have any musical talent?

GS: You know, music was my first love. I grew up swing dancing in the living room, listening to every genre of music you can imagine. My mom immersed us music. Growing up in Nashville, I went to school with every country star's kid. It was a really fun world to be in. I'm very interested in getting into music after football. I played the clarinet for a while, played the bass guitar for a long time, want to pick that back up. I miss it, but I write a lot of lyrics. So I'm still in touch with the music side, but football is my focus right now.

LS: Who's your favorite musician?

GS: I just went and saw the Zac Brown Band, I love them. Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Pharell Williams, Justin Timberlake—a lot of people who do different stuff. I've got a lot of favorites.

LS:I can't believe you're from Nashville and Taylor Swift isn't on that list.

GS: Taylor has really grown on me. I was anti-Taylor at first, very unjustly so. I love what she's been doing recently. I'm a converted fan.

LS:You rock the long hair, and I wondered if it was in tribute to anybody. Lynyrd Skynyrd maybe?

GS:(Laughs.) You know, in another life I think I might be in a Hair Nation rock band playing bass somewhere.