When David DeCastro was choosing what school to go to, he was frequently told that Stanford wouldn't get him to the National Football League. The future first-round draft pick didn't listen.
"I love this school, I know football doesn't last forever, and people when I was getting recruited, people said you couldn't go to the NFL from Stanford," DeCastro said. "Obviously, I was smart enough to see right through that."
Intelligence, of course, is the operative word at Stanford. The fifth-ranked school in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report, Stanford has long been known more for its academics than its athletics, but according to offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren, the two don't necessarily stand in conflict.
"They're unbelivable, these Stanford kids, what they can retain from a game-plan point of view," Bloomgren said. "You've got to be so fricking intelligent just to get into Stanford, but these linemen, we are so blessed. not just because they're smart kids but because football makes sense to them."
Stanford's linemen are so smart, according to Bloomgren, that the team didn't even need to cut down on its original 320-play game plan for its bowl contest against Oklahoma State.
And the brighest bulbs on the line are OG DeCastro and OLT Jonathan Martin, both of whom are projected to be picked among the first 24 picks of the 2012 NFL draft. With three freshmen alongside them on the line, DeCastro and Martin had the ominous task of helping this inexperienced group protect the most valuable asset in college football, QB Andrew Luck.
"When I first got there a year ago, I talked to these guys about leadership and what their role had to be, how we needed to bring these young guys along, and they did just that," Bloomgren said. "We talked to them about how leadership is a marathon, not a sprint, and man, those guys just jumped into the weight room and showed them how to work."
As has been true for the past three years, Stanford's success came partly as a result of its dependable duo.
"It's been a great three, four years. We push each other every day," DeCastro said. "He was usually on the left side and I was on the right, so we didn't really talk too much. But just to have him there and know that he would take care of the left side and I would take care of the right, I can't really say enough about him."
With DeCastro and Martin at the helm, the Cardinal averaged 43.2 points per game, which ranked second in the Pac-12, also finished No. 2 with 210.6 rushing yards per game and, most importantly, surrendered just 11 sacks, again good for second in the conference.
DeCastro said he is still waiting for a gift from Luck in appreciation of the line's hard work. It was only under their protection that Luck became the top college prospect in the country, after all.
"He promised he'd take us out to dinner a couple of years ago, but he still hasn't followed through," DeCastro said. "So we're still waiting on that. Maybe sometime when he makes some money, he'll be able to buy us something nice."
Of course, all three athletes are in line to make plenty of cash. DeCastro is the leading Stanford lineman right now, as much a result of his tremendous temperament as anything else, according to Cardinal offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
"His temparament, his makeup reminds me a lot of (former Bears C) Olin Kreutz," Hamilton said. "And I respect Olin Kreutz as a football player more than any other football player I have ever been around."
Meanwhile, Martin, at 6-6, 304 pounds, is a pure physical force.
"He's got great length and he's a left tackle that does just a great job of pass protection," Bloomgren said. "He has no fear, like we moved him over to the right side as a tight end and, anywhere, all he does is come off the ball and hit people."
Yet, while their professional prospects are lofty, DeCastro and Martin have yet to abandon Stanford. According to Bloomgren, the two linemen have been active in speaking with new recruits on Facebook and are determined to keep the program successful.
"They want to be sure that this thing isn't going to fall off the face of the Earth at Stanford, that all of their hard work isn't in vain," Bloomgren said. "They're proud of the program they built."