STANFORD (CBS / AP) — Tyler Gaffney had just finished up a grueling baseball season in mid-June when Stanford football coach David Shaw suggested he take two weeks off to rest.
A rare break? You bet.
Gaffney was all for it. His legs are that much fresher now on the football field for the fifth-ranked Cardinal. Fewer of the aches, pains and nicks that used to be a factor for the junior running back purely because of his heavy workload.
It’s quite a challenge for Gaffney as a two-sport athlete at Stanford, with the rigorous academic demands to boot.
This week, Gaffney has started taking swings in the batting cage between football practices and schoolwork.
“It’s a lot of organization,” Gaffney said. “Coming into this year, I knew exactly what to expect, I knew how my body was going to feel.”
Gaffney watched Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart star at Stanford in football and baseball before departing for the NFL, so there is a template in place for the two Cardinal programs. It helps that the two coaches get along so well, too.
Gaffney stays in touch with Gerhart, recently sending him a text message before the Vikings’ opener at San Diego.
“It definitely had a huge impact on why I came here,” Gaffney said of Gerhart’s example. “He showed it was possible. Whatever he was doing, however it was getting done, it was possible.”
Gaffney reports to Shaw and longtime Cardinal baseball coach Mark Marquess. Both are flexible with schedules and understand there are times when the best thing for Gaffney is to get off his feet. They have to keep a careful tally to make sure he stays within the NCAA 20-hour weekly limit on team activities.
It wasn’t hard to get Shaw on board. He was Gaffney’s position coach before being promoted when Jim Harbaugh left to lead the San Francisco 49ers. A former wide receiver for the Cardinal, Shaw also appeared in a varsity basketball game and a track meet during his college career.
Marquess also played first base and football for Stanford and is among a small group to have reached the College World Series as a player and coach.
Shaw’s one mandate for Gaffney: that he maintains his football weight lifting regimen.
“The only thing I did differently this year was I made him take a mandatory break after (baseball) was over,” Shaw said. “We kind of gave him a chance to get his body back. This is the first training camp that he’s been healthy and fresh. And I think it has shown in the way he has run the ball and in pass protection.”
Gaffney also said his football conditioning contributed to a “night-and-day difference” in how he held up through baseball season and avoided the fatigue he experienced as a freshman.
A backup running back on a deep unit, the 6-foot-1, 216-pound Gaffney would like to take on a bigger role in the offense for Stanford (3-0), which had its bye this weekend. He tries to do all he can with his limited touches, rushing for two touchdowns on 10 carries so far.
“You never know how many you’re going to get so you’ve got to make the most of it,” he said.
When Stanford’s baseball team lost to North Carolina in the NCAA super regionals this summer, Gaffney was riding a 22-game hitting streak — the program’s fifth-longest since 1988 — and it will carry into the 2012 season. The left fielder batted .327 with three home runs and 35 RBIs, and was second on the team with 42 runs scored. He drew a team-leading 29 walks and hit 10 doubles and five triples.
As soon as Stanford was eliminated, it immediately became time to switch gears to football.
It helps that Gaffney’s two venues — Stanford Stadium and Sunken Diamond — are a long relay throw apart.
“He’s done a good job, from what I can tell, of balancing both,” Gerhart said. “I don’t hear anybody complaining about him not being at a meeting or a practice or coming to football a step behind. He’s doing all the things right, and for him as he continues on, he’s a quality player in that he can potentially go pro definitely in baseball and I’m sure in football as well. My advice to him is keep playing them, and do the one that you love.”
Gaffney takes his heavy class load during baseball season, including 17 credits last winter.
Harbaugh never worried about Gaffney successfully juggling all of his responsibilities.
“We had a template with Toby and knew how to go about it,” Harbaugh said. “Toby was key in showing Tyler how to do it. From my perspective it was just that he was elite in baseball and football.”
A typical day for Gaffney during baseball season includes 8 a.m. morning hitting for 30 minutes, followed by class until about 2 p.m., then practice and voluntarily lifting with the football team before going home in the early evening for dinner and homework. Then start over again.
“Quick turnaround,” he said.
Gaffney has been through the transition from one sport to the next twice now, so it has become easier.
“The first year I was just learning and I talked to Toby Gerhart and I grilled him with questions,” Gaffney said. “But the questions and answers weren’t really enough to prepare yourself for what was in store.”
After the Cardinal’s Orange Bowl rout of Virginia Tech in January, Gaffney took “just a week to do absolutely nothing, then you’ve got to get the swing going again.”
This year marked the first time Gaffney took time off after baseball. It helped him transition into football conditioning. Gaffney also played in a summer baseball league with weekend doubleheaders.
“I felt much better, my legs, I felt faster, no aches,” Gaffney said. “We talked about (taking a break) and decided that would be the best bet, because I’ve had nicks and injuries that have stayed with me just because of no time off.”
Marquess makes it clear not everyone can pull off the impressive double accomplished by Gerhart and now Gaffney.
“Tyler was a big part of that,” Marquess said. “Obviously he has to make the transition from football to baseball and he’s doing a good job of that. He’s just a very gifted athlete.”
With many athletes today specializing in one sport beginning at the youth level, Shaw and Marquess appreciate how Gaffney seemingly does it all.
“I played, it seemed, like every sport growing up all the way through, and I was able to play two in college,” Shaw said. “But when you play multiple sports, you develop skills and different unique assets that can be applied in any sport.”
Gaffney gets it. And there’s no way he would change his hectic schedule.
“I couldn’t imagine it another way,” he said. “This is how my life’s always been.”
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)