College Sports

Stanford’s Brennan Scarlett has no Axe to grind against Cal

Stanford Cardinal defensive end Brennan Scarlett (17) plays in the first half against Colorado on Nov. 7, 2015, in Boulder, Colo.
Stanford Cardinal defensive end Brennan Scarlett (17) plays in the first half against Colorado on Nov. 7, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. The Associated Press

On one level, Brennan Scarlett is just happy that he’s healthy enough to suit up Saturday. The defensive lineman has been part of the Cal-Stanford rivalry every year since 2011, but injuries ended every season short of the annual showdown. This weekend, he finally should play in his first Big Game.

Yet the deeper irony of his situation is not lost on Scarlett. The past four years, Scarlett was on the other side of the rivalry, playing for Cal. This spring, he left the Bears to become the first incoming graduate transfer in Stanford football history. Scarlett spent four seasons in Berkeley, but in his first appearance in a Big Game, he will wear red and white.

“It’s crazy,” Scarlett said after Stanford’s practice Wednesday. “You can’t write it any better than that, huh?”

It’s crazy. You can’t write it any better than that, huh?

Defensive lineman Brennan Scarlett on transferring from Cal to Stanford

It certainly lends an intriguing subplot to the 118th installment of the rivalry. Scarlett, who had perhaps his best game for the Cardinal last week against Oregon with 2 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble, will line up opposite a Bears offensive line that he knows well from countless practice battles, while his own offense faces a Cal defensive unit featuring players Scarlett said he still considers friends. Forecasts include a likelihood of banter.

“Might be a little bit,” Scarlett said, grinning. “It’s going to be intense, I know that for sure.”

Scarlett played in 17 games at Cal, starting 14, while redshirting in 2013 and missing parts of his three other seasons with injuries, including a torn ACL that limited him to five games last fall. Scarlett said the last injury led him to start looking at graduate programs, and with his younger brother, Cameron, also joining the Stanford football team this fall as a freshman, his focus shifted to the south Bay.

The graduate transfer rule allows a player immediate eligibility at a new school if he already has earned his degree and transfers into a graduate program in a major not offered by his current school. Scarlett said he looked at other schools but ultimately applied only to Stanford, where he’s pursuing a graduate degree in management science and engineering. He said the program is a “perfect” mix of business and technical aspects, and he valued a one-year program that would still allow him to explore his NFL aspirations in the spring.

“When I got hurt last year, it was kind of a wake-up call as far as, football is something that isn’t going to last forever. And what I’ve realized is that the mental side, the academics and your earnings as far as that goes, is what really sticks with you,” Scarlett said. “This is really the place I wanted to go and was the best fit for me.”

Scarlett received Cal’s blessing to transfer within the conference – but not without some awkwardness. When news of Scarlett’s impending move broke in March, Cal coach Sonny Dykes told reporters at a spring practice: “Don’t know anything about it. Don’t care.” Dykes, however, complimented Scarlett at his news conference this week when asked how Stanford has used the former Bears defensive end.

“They’ve played him both inside and outside; he’s played a lot of tackle for them,” Dykes said. “I’m sure they’ll move him around. He’s been effective both places.”

Having Scarlett would seem to give Stanford an advantage in that he knows the Bears’ personnel and schemes and can share that with his Cardinal coaches and teammates. But Stanford coach David Shaw insisted this week that he had not gone to Scarlett for inside information on Cal.

“And I won’t – I put my hand on the Bible for that,” Shaw said on his weekly conference call. “I don’t believe in that. I don’t condone it.”

Until Scarlett’s case, Stanford had only been on the other end of the graduate transfer rule. In fact, this spring alone, the Cardinal saw tight end Charlie Hopkins (Virginia), offensive lineman Kevin Reihner (Penn State) and fullback Patrick Skov (Georgia Tech) leave for other programs. Yet despite opposition to the rule from some of his coaching peers, Shaw said Wednesday he supports it.

It’s pretty interesting, because I don’t feel like I’ve earned the Axe. It’s here (at Stanford) and I’m here, but I didn’t really win it. So in that regard, I’m still looking to earn the Axe this year with this Stanford team.

Scarlett, on the trophy that goes to the winner of the annual Big Game

“I believe it 100 percent – you are over 21 years old, you go to school for four years, you get your degree, no one should be able to tell you what to do,” Shaw said. “You’re in a program for four years, you did everything you could do academically, and you think there’s a better situation for you to play football someplace else – let ’em go.”

Scarlett faced a difficult transition last summer learning Stanford’s defensive system and verbiage, and he has played much more interior line than he did at Cal. But he has proved a quick study and helped shore up a Stanford defensive line shaken by injuries. He’s tied for the team lead in quarterback hurries (six) and tied for second in sacks (3 1/2 ).

On Saturday, Scarlett will pursue a quarterback in Jared Goff whom he wasn’t allowed to touch for two years in practice, just one level of perhaps the Big Game’s biggest irony. Still another: Scarlett’s current team hasn’t lost the Big Game since 2009 – which is why Scarlett has no idea how it feels to hoist the Stanford Axe trophy in victory.

“It’s pretty interesting, because I don’t feel like I’ve earned the Axe,” Scarlett said. “It’s here (at Stanford) and I’m here, but I didn’t really win it. So in that regard, I’m still looking to earn the Axe this year with this Stanford team.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments