Switching Gears: Two Stanford Football Players Go From the Diamond to the Gridiron

By Justine Hendricks
Chris Morrison-USA TODAY Sports

Among the ranks of the top amateur and professional athletes, it’s tough to find players who are strong competitors in multiple sports — in part because talented young athletes are often forced to choose which sport to pursue full-time. The Stanford football roster this season features two players with professional baseball experience who are giving football another shot.

Fifth-year senior tailback Tyler Gaffney left the Cardinal after his junior year to pursue a career in baseball, but he gave the offense a big boost this offseason when he announced he was putting that dream on hold to rejoin the Stanford football team.

Gaffney was a 24th-round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he was modestly successful in the minor leagues, with 33 hits, 10 RBIs and a .483 on-base percentage. The outfield prospect told the media before he was drafted that it would be a tough decision to leave college early, and while he initially chose baseball, he admitted he had a hard time watching Stanford’s 2012 season as a fan.

Gaffney and junior wide receiver Jordan Pratt, another former minor-leaguer on the Cardinal roster, both chose professional baseball (and being paid to play) over football at first, but that’s where the similarities end.

Gaffney left Stanford when he was drafted following his junior year. Back in 2003, Pratt signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Washington State, but a $175,000 signing bonus to play pro baseball lured him away from college football before he ever stepped on campus.

This year, Gaffney returned to Stanford and the football team after a brief eighteen-month hiatus. Pratt enrolled in 2011 as a 26-year-old true freshman following an eight-year stint in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system.

Gaffney may still return to baseball after his final year of football eligibility; he hasn’t ruled it out, and the Pirates retain his rights. Pratt, on the other hand, turned to football after tendonitis, and a 5.98 ERA over eight seasons, ended his dreams of playing for the Dodgers.

More significantly, Gaffney is on track to be an impact player for the Stanford football team this year, while Pratt has one career catch for two yards.

The Stanford run game lagged last season, despite the incredible efforts of Stepfan Taylor. Gaffney, who was the No. 2 running back before signing with the Pirates organization, will add depth and experience this fall.

Pratt, an All-State player in football, basketball and baseball as a high-schooler in Oregon, would probably be happy just to get on the field more frequently. He didn’t play his freshman season at Stanford, but he won the Greg Piers Award for outstanding scout team contributions that year, and he appeared in five games in 2012, making his lone reception against Colorado. Pratt had a big catch in this year’s Red and White Spring Game, but he’ll probably continue to play a minor role in the offense.

Pratt chose Stanford as much for the academics as for the chance to play football, but Gaffney may have returned with specific postseason goals in mind. He played in the 2011 Orange Bowl and the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, but he was in the stands for last season’s upset of Oregon and the Rose Bowl win.

Gaffney might be just a little salty that the team claimed the Pac-12 title the year he left, but his return could be a factor in helping a loaded Stanford football team return to the conference title game and the Rose Bowl. And if he’s going to put his professional baseball career on hold to get to Pasadena, the year the Rose Bowl hosts the BCS Championship Game is a good year to do it.

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