As excitable as he appeared after diving grabs and touchdown catches on the football field for Cal Poly, Cole Stanford can be just as soft-spoken away from it.
In that character, the former Mustangs slotback was quietly shopping his services to NFL teams this summer as more high-profile teammates Johnny Millard and Sullivan Grosz inked respective deals with the St. Louis Rams and the Houston Texans.
Stanford had a private on-campus workout for one franchise and visited three others for tryouts.
Since nothing had come of those, he was tacitly preparing to end his football career, even accepting a sales job just days before a big break.
“I actually got a phone call on Friday afternoon asking if I could get on a plane in San Luis Obispo out to Boston in about 45 minutes,” Stanford said. “They said pack an extra pair of socks and shorts and shoes, and I went out there for a little workout.”
Emerging from a group of 10 candidates vying for two open roster spots, Stanford was chosen to sign with the New England Patriots on Saturday and immediately joined the team for training camp. The wide receiver convert is suddenly sharing a lockerroom with Tom Brady and even expects to be thrust into action when the Patriots open the preseason against the Washington Redskins next Thursday on NBC.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” Stanford said. “I’ve been playing with guys I’ve been watching for the last 10 years here on TV. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Stanford began his career at Cal Poly as a middle linebacker before head coach Tim Walsh moved him to fullback and eventually to the slot.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Grass Valley Nevada Union High product was hampered by nagging injuries this past season. He finished his college career with 43 catches for 891 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran 54 times for 314 yards and a 65-yard touchdown run that sparked a comeback victory at North Dakota in 2012.
Stanford has been clocked at 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but still, he was in an awkward spot auditioning for NFL teams since the slotback position doesn’t translate to prostyle offenses. New England, the team that did a pre-draft workout with Stanford at Cal Poly, even had him run linebacking drills in addition to receiving routes.
Stanford also attended a three-day rookie minicamp with the Green Bay Packers, had a one-day tryout with the Oakland Raiders and was invited to another minicamp with the Kansas City Chiefs.
His last contact with any team was more than three weeks ago, and the Patriots’ call came out of the blue. Stanford said he won the spot by remaining in the best shape of his life despite his dwindling hopes of signing.
Though Patriots training camp started July 24, just two days before his tryout, most players he’s competing with have at least undergone minicamps and OTAs with the team, meaning Stanford has to play catch-up.
Plus, New England’s playbook is much more extensive than that of Cal Poly’s triple option.
“It’s much more complex with all the checks and audibles and the reads,” Stanford said, “and I’m playing with guys like Tom Brady that have such an understanding of route concepts and different defensive coverages. You’ve got to be pretty smart to know what you’re doing.”
Stanford is a longshot for making the regular-season roster, but he doesn’t need to look far for inspiration. Patriots receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were each unheralded college players who’ve earned integral roles on the team.
Amendola was cut by two franchises as an undrafted and undersized receiver out of Texas Tech. He finally broke out with the Rams before signing a five-year, $28.5 million contract with New England last season.
Edelman was a college quarterback drafted in the seventh round by the Patriots, and after four seasons of limited playing time, Edelman caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns last season.
“They are both guys that I’ve looked up to for the past couple years here and idolized their style of play,” Stanford said. “I’m trying to learn from guys like that, pick up bits and pieces here and there and help my game improve.”