The cerebral revolution is on in college football, and Stanford senior linebacker Shayne Skov—who has emerged as the face of a program that enters this season as one of the favorites for the national title—is happy to lead it. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Pete Thamel tells the story of the nation’s best play-making nerd and the difficult journey he has traveled. Skov also appears on one of six regional SI covers this week.
His face may well be adorned on game days with KISS-style eye black and topped by a Mohawk, but Skov’s younger brother, Patrick, a Cardinal fullback, describes Shayne as “a nerd-meathead combo.” (PAGE 48) Shayne, a management science and engineering major, is the first to admit that he devours the works of George R.R. Martin and enjoys role-playing games such as Skyrim. Yet the game he is best at is football. “He’s got the ability to play at the highest level,” says Stanford coach David Shaw, “and be one of those special players.” (PAGE 48)
But there’s a deeper story here, too, about a boy whose path to big man on campus at Stanford has been as difficult as they come. Thamel writes, “His saga spans two countries, two coasts and two languages. He’s been thrown off the football team at one school, voted head prefect at another and suspended for an academic quarter for a DUI at a third. There have been three knee surgeries, a two-year delay in entering the NFL draft and, now, one final season to prove he’s healthy.” (PAGE 48)
All of this unfolded as Skov watched the health of his mother, Terri, decline for more than a decade as she suffered from multiple sclerosis. Shayne and his family aren’t looking for sympathy, and he doesn’t want his mother’s health to become a story line during Stanford’s season. “My mom’s sick, and that unfortunately is what it is,” he says. “Everybody has their own issues.” (PAGE 49) Terri is now in hospice care, and doctors expect her to live only three or four more months.
Shayne and his family spent three years in Mexico before high school so his mother could be more comfortable and receive cheaper treatment. He moved to the Oakland suburb of Piedmont with his father, brother and two sisters after his parents divorced in 2003, but he eventually landed at Trinity-Pawling, a prep school in upstate New York after being kicked off the Piedmont High team for missing the team bus to a big game. Shayne thrived in the structure and stability of the prep school where he loaded up on AP courses, scored a 1,300 on the SAT and excelled on the football team. “That school was nothing short of a miracle,” his father Peter Skov says. “I sent my kid there as an act of desperation. He was on his way to a construction job, and they turned him into a Stanford student. Are you kidding me?” Says Shayne, “I can’t say enough about how much patience they had with me and steered me in the right direction.” (PAGE 50)
Shayne seemed destined for a three-and-done career at Stanford, as he became a starter seven games into his freshman year and led the team in tackles his sophomore year. However, three games into his junior year he suffered a gruesome knee injury. He tore his ACL and MCL and fractured his tibia, which wound up requiring three surgeries. “It was hard to believe I was going to get back,” says Shayne. (PAGE 53)
He bottomed out in January 2012 when he was arrested for DUI after driving home from teammate Ryan Hewitt’s 21st birthday party. He was fined, ordered to attend alcohol-diversion classes and suspended by Shaw for the 2012 opener. “I made a mistake,” says Skov. “Certainly I wasn’t like, smashed drunk speeding down the freeway. I broke the law, though, and I suffered the consequences from it. . . . It probably was my darkest hour.” (PAGE 53)
His return to the field in 2012 saw him once again lead the team in tackles, and Stanford won its first Rose Bowl since 1972. But he didn’t feel he had his burst back yet. After the season, the school’s judicial affairs board suspended him for the winter 2013 quarter for the DUI offense. While away from school, he was able to rest his knee and cut down his body fat. He feels he’s back to his old self now. “We won’t know until I’m on the field for football-specific movement,” says Shayne, “but right now I’m ready to perform at as high of a level as I ever have in my career.” (PAGE 54)
***Also in “Revenge of the Nerd,” SI writers reflect on the rise of their alma maters—and the smart guys who play there: Kelli Anderson on Stanford; Lee Jenkins on Vanderbilt and senior fullback Fitz Lassing, Sarah Kwak on Duke and senior defensive end Kenny Anunike and Ben Glicksman on Northwestern and junior center Brandon Vitabile.