If Stanford linebacker Ron George doesn't succeed in the NFL, he has an alternate career choice.
George would like to be a fireman.
"I'm dead serious," George said. "I don't know what I want to do with my whole life. I know I don't want to sit behind a desk for the next five years and waste energy when I could be doing something that's concrete and based in some sense of reality."
George, who has ridden along with the Stanford Fire Department, likes the excitement and the danger of fighting fires.
"I'm actively pursing this dream," George said. "This is not just media talk. This is something I really want to do."
A 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior, George has helped the Cardinal defense extinguish a lot of backdrafts since transferring from the Air Force Academy in 1989. Named to the All-Pacific 10 Conference team last season, George has led the conference in sacks for two of the last three seasons.
Led by George and strong safety John Lynch, a 6-2, 215-pound senior, Stanford's defense has helped the No. 11 Cardinal (4-1) win four in a row going into Saturday night's game against No. 19 UCLA (3-1) at the Rose Bowl, including last week's 33-16 victory at Notre Dame.
Lynch, a converted quarterback, made nine tackles and forced a fumble that led to a touchdown and intercepted a goal-line pass as Notre Dame was threatening to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Lynch also knocked out Notre Dame's leading receiver, Lake Dawson, and tailback Reggie Brooks as Stanford blanked Notre Dame in the second half.
Lynch suffered a slight concussion when he was hit by Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike Jerish and sat out three series, during which the Irish scored most of their points.
The conference's top-ranked defense, Stanford has given an average of 202.8 yards per game, including only 94.2 yards rushing. This is Stanford's best defense since the 1971 season, when the "Thunderchicken" defense, led by linebacker Jeff Siemon and defensive tackle Dave Tipton, now a Stanford assistant coach, led the team to a 13-12 victory over Michigan in the 1972 Rose Bowl.
"We've been talking and it's about time we get our own nickname if we keep putting up numbers like this," Lynch said. "This defense is something that has evolved from a defense that wasn't very good. But we stuck with it and now we're successful."
The son of a career Air Force officer, George grew up on an Air Force base in Heidelberg, Germany.
George, who played soccer at Heidelberg American High, didn't begin playing football until he was a junior. A tight end/defensive end, George developed quickly, making the All-Europe team as a senior.
"Being All-Europe is like being all-state in Vermont," George said. "It wasn't like being a California prep All-American. I wasn't even raw when I came out of high school. I was like the seed they plant to grow sugar cane."
Recruited by the Air Force Academy on the recommendation of a general who saw him play, George nearly made the Falcons' traveling squad as a special teams player as a freshman.
A probable starting linebacker as a sophomore, George decided to leave the Academy because he found it difficult to combine academics, football and the military.
"The Academy structures your entire life in a much different manner than any job would or any university or even the military," George said. "It was a little bit too much. There were too many things going on. I was asked to be a student and a cadet and then I was trying to be a football player. I had three full-time endeavors, but I wasn't drawing any real experience or knowledge from any of the them. I knew that I had to limit the menu, so I could better taste the food I was being offered."
Set to transfer to Harvard, George decided to attend Stanford after meeting with former Stanford coach Dennis Green.
"My father came out to Stanford with me and he said, 'Let's go see if anyone is in the football office,' " George said. "By chance, Denny Green was in his office and he had time and we sat down and talked. Within a half-hour, he sold me on his dream of Stanford football."
After sitting out the 1989 season because of NCAA transfer rules, George led the Pac-10 in sacks and tackles-for-loss in 1990.
George finished third in the Pac-10 in sacks and second in tackles-for-loss last season as Stanford went 8-3 to earn its first bowl appearance since 1986. The Cardinal won its final seven games, its longest winning streak since 1951, before losing to Georgia Tech in final 14 seconds of the Aloha Bowl.
George was set to give up his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL draft after Green quit to become coach of the Minnesota Vikings last January, but he decided to return when former San Francisco 49er coach Bill Walsh returned to Stanford.
"I had my bags packed," George said. "I was out the door. Denny Green was leaving and I felt like I'd given Stanford all I could and it was time to play in a Sunday league."