From the moment he decided to cross the country to play at Stanford, Bryce Love has followed his own path, different from any of the great athletes who came out of this area before him. He fell in love with Stanford on his first visit, even if it meant tearing himself away from his family in Wake Forest.
And now the speedy running back stands at the verge of making history: Whether he wins the Heisman Trophy or not, and he has a chance, this is the closest a player from the Triangle has ever come to winning it, although a few from nearby have cracked the top 10 and players from Triangle colleges have been in contention (and Gibsonville’s Torry Holt, for one, was both).
The nation’s leading rusher, averaging almost 9 yards per attempt, Love also waited a long time to get this chance, spending two years behind Christian McCaffrey before he crashed the big stage against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl, with McCaffrey sitting out.
Even before that, Love went a long way to get this chance, turning down offers closer to home from North Carolina, N.C. State, Tennessee and Virginia Tech, among others, to pursue a degree in genetics at Stanford among a team full of other football nomads.
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“There are people on this team from all over the country and we’re all going through similar things,” Love said. “In a way, it just brings us closer and makes an even stronger bond.”
With 1,622 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns and eight 100-yard games this season – including 301 against Arizona State and 263 against UCLA – Love has been all but unstoppable running the ball for the Cardinal. He was slowed briefly by an ankle injury that caused him to miss a win over Oregon State and slowed him in a loss to Washington State – he was held to 69 yards – before bouncing back with 166 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s win over Washington.
That pushed him back into the thick of the Heisman race, which was no surprise to anyone who watched him back home, especially on the track where he was a pre-teen superstar and an age-group national record-holder in the 100, 200 and 400 meters.
Love grew up running track with N.C. State running back Nyheim Hines as part of the Carolina Elite track club, a group that also included future Division I running backs Keith and Marcus Marshall as well as Love’s brother Chris, a cornerback at East Carolina. (Hines and Love, a few weeks ago, exchanged texts comparing ankle injuries.) Love gave up track in high school to focus on football, but his track speed translated to the football field, not merely at Wake Forest but at Stanford.
“From a young age, Bryce stood out from everybody in the country with all the records he broke,” said former Millbrook running back Marcus Marshall, now at James Madison. “Nyheim wasn’t far behind.”
Love downplayed the Heisman hype, saying he was just “going with the flow of the game,” although it’s certainly nothing new at Stanford. The Cardinal has had a run of Heisman candidates, from Toby Gerhart to Andrew Luck to McCaffrey, none of whom have been able to get over the top. Love still has a chance to upend that, especially if Stanford can finish strong and Oklahoma and Penn State struggle, damaging the chances of Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley respectively. Again, Love expressed no concern.
“It’s just we don’t even really concentrate on those types of things,” Love said. “We’re really big on the team being first and all that. You can see it in Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart, probably the one commonality between all the people you mentioned, and even everybody that’s on the team, everyone just wants to succeed. Individual success is cool but that’s the kind of people we are out here and we just want to win the game and let the chips fall where they may.”
Wherever the chips fall in the Heisman voting, Love has already made history merely by being part of the conversation – and there’s still a chance for so much more.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock