During Stanford’s 17-14 upset victory over Oregon in Eugene last year, Tyler Gaffney was nothing more than a spectator. Gaffney, a former running back for the Cardinal, gave up football in favor of a professional baseball career after being drafted in the 24th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates following his junior season in 2011.
“I left with the intent of playing baseball. I knew I had a year left, but I left with the plan of playing baseball,” Gaffney said.
Gaffney seemed to make the right decision — he excelled with the Pirates’ class-A affiliate, the State College Spikes. As a first-year player, Gaffney recorded a .297 batting average with a .483 on base percentage. However, as his rookie season came to a close and he watched ex-teammates pave their way toward a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl victory, the gridiron beckoned.
“It wasn’t till the end of the year that I started thinking maybe my best bet was to finish my degree and come back to play football for a championship team while I still have some youth left,” Gaffney said.
The thought of playing one more year of football began to take over. Gaffney, with the influence of his parents, began weighing out the options of going back to Stanford, finishing his degree and playing one more year of a sport that he missed.
“We weighed out the options on a white board with the pros and cons of staying in baseball and the pros and cons of going back to school,” Gaffney said. “Getting my degree and playing football this year outweighed playing baseball.”
After re-enrolling at Stanford, the fifth-year senior now highlights an offense known for its straightforward, old-school rushing attack that will challenge the No. 3 Ducks Thursday night. Averaging 5.3 yards per carry, Gaffney has accumulated 886 rushing yards on the year to go along with 12 touchdowns.
With a year away from football, Gaffney has made the transition look effortless, surpassing the century mark five times this season while averaging over 20 carries per game. The 6-foot-1 221-pound running back from San Diego, Calif., is the prototypical between-the-tackles type of back Stanford’s system needs and has transitioned back to football without virtually any growing pains.
“I think when you’re an athlete, you’re an athlete and that guy is an athlete,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “Good athletes do not take long to get back to what they were doing before.”
Aliotti also spoke highly of Gaffney’s running style and slates him as a “hard nose, downhill runner.” Gaffney has always been this type of running back, he just never had this type of opportunity.
“It just came down to doing what I was doing before I left,” Gaffney said. “Getting my body back into shape was the main goal. Mentally, I knew what I was doing. Now that I have gotten my opportunity I have taken advantage of it.”
Gaffney notes that he continues to be reminded a little bit more week-by-week that the decision he made to come back was the right one and that a degree at Stanford will open even more potential options for the future. With a personality that takes life each day at a time, Gaffney is not ruling out any equation for the future, whether it be back in baseball or with football. But now his focus is on Oregon.
“This is a game everybody marks down,” Gaffney said. “This is a big game and we’re going to have to play our best game.”
Follow Justin Wise on Twitter @JWISE25