STANFORD (AP) — Bryce Love ran out of Christian McCaffrey’s shadow the same way he sprinted away from opposing defenses — with breathtaking speed that has carried him to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
After spending two years as an understudy, Love applied the lessons he learned watching McCaffrey set records and put his own spin on it in a season just as spectacular in its own way as McCaffrey was on the way to a Heisman runner-up finish in 2015.
“I was always in awe by a lot of things that he was doing,” Love said. “Obviously being the caliber of player he was it was good to sit back and learn the little things from him. How he approached everything, how he attacked everything was really amazing. How he prepared week in and week out, I was lucky to see the things he could do. I was lucky to learn from him.”
Love delivered his own awe-inspiring performances for Stanford to earn a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist alongside Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and last year’s winner, quarterback Lamar Jackson of Louisville.
Love established himself as a candidate early by rushing for 564 yards in back-to-back wins over UCLA and Arizona State. He kept adding to those numbers and leads all Power 5 running backs in yards rushing (1,973), yards per carry (8.3), and 100-yard games (11), and also set an FBS record with 12 runs of at least 50 yards.
“It’s awesome to have somebody back there who will take advantage of the little creases that you give him and be able to do something special with the ball,” offensive lineman A.T. Hall said.
About the only thing that managed to slow Love down was a sprained ankle suffered Oct. 14 against Oregon that hampered him the rest of the season.
Love missed one game against Oregon State and then played through the pain for the final five games. He still topped the 100-yard mark in his final four contests, including three against teams that finished the regular season in the top 15 of the AP poll, and helped the Cardinal make the Pac-12 title game where they lost to USC.
“He’s a tough human being, he loves to play the game, and he’s outstanding at it,” coach David Shaw said. “That being said, he’s outrushed a lot of football teams on one and a half ankles. ... That’s a combination of ability, toughness, heart, character, all those things rolled into one, and I have so much respect for who he is as a man as well as what he is as a football player.”
Love showed flashes of his ability the previous two years when he backed up McCaffrey. He had just 163 offensive touches his first two seasons, but averaged 7.2 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns, all but one of them on plays that went at least 45 yards.
So when he took off after becoming the feature back for the Cardinal, the success he had came as little surprise.
“There’s just an explosiveness you noticed from day one,” said 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who was at Stanford for Love’s first two seasons. “You could see how quick he was and how fast he was. His speed is ridiculous. No one has speed like that. He has put it all together and the way he puts that first juke on someone is just awesome.”
That speed has always been there. Love set several USA Track & Field age-group records while growing up in North Carolina and earned the nickname “Baby Bolt” in comparison to Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt.
That speed caught Stanford’s attention and he decided to come to The Farm where he could play football as well as pursue his other goal of being a pediatrician as a human biology major who likes to spend his time away from football in a stem-cell lab alongside Ph.D. candidates.
“I put my arm around this guy and put him up in front of anybody, not to mention what he does academically,” Shaw said. “You know, the guys that we have here, I’m so proud of all of them, in particular Bryce, of being that young man that you want college football to be about, and you want to point to and say, to my two young sons that I have and say, be like him.”