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Buckey Is Doing the Impressing Now : College football: After being wooed by Bill Walsh's aura, Stanford offensive tackle becomes complete package.

October 14, 1994|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALO ALTO — On Jan. 16, 1992, the day Bill Walsh was hired for the second time as Stanford's football coach, he took his predecessor, Dennis Green, aside.

"What's the first thing I've got to do?" Walsh asked him.

"You've got to go to Bakersfield, and recruit Jeff Buckey," Green told him.

Today, Buckey, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound Stanford offensive tackle considered by NFL scouts to be one of the best at his position in college football, recently recalled Walsh's first act as Stanford's coach.

He could scarcely believe it, he said, when Walsh arrived at the front door of his parents' home.

"I grew up as a 49ers' fan, I was a kid with a 49er cap on all the time," he said, referring to Walsh's 10-year, three-Super Bowl NFL coaching stint in San Francisco.

"To see him actually in the living room of my house--it was spectacular.

"We talked a lot about a Stanford education, about his 49er teams, about how excited he was about being back at Stanford. I was really impressed with him."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 15, 1994 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 7 Column 5 Sports Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Stanford--The picture accompanying a Stanford football story in Friday's editions was incorrectly identified as Jeff Buckey. The photograph was of Mark Butterfield.

Walsh's visit went so well that Buckey soon committed to Stanford, which had to come as a blow to the man who had visited Buckey the previous weekend.

Lou Holtz.

"Coach Holtz was the most motivating person I'd ever met," Buckey said.

"He started talking about the legends of Notre Dame football, about how great Notre Dame football was--he had me so pumped up I was almost bouncing off the walls. If he'd pulled out a letter of intent that night, I'd have signed it. I'd be at Notre Dame right now."

At least Holtz got a dinner out of it, Buckey recalled.

"Coach Holtz came alone that night, and my mom fixed a steak-and-potatoes dinner. When Coach Walsh came with two assistant coaches, they'd already eaten at a hotel."

Buckey, whose team plays USC Saturday at Stanford, was almost as big a celebrity in Bakersfield as Walsh and Holtz.

At Bakersfield High, he was considered one of the nation's premier offensive line recruits. And with near straight-A report cards, everyone was in on this competition.

"I considered a lot of places, but in the end I got it down to Stanford, UCLA and Notre Dame," he said.

"I felt like Stanford was the best fit for me because at the time I was considering medicine as a career, and I liked the med school program. But after I got here, medicine began to fade--12 years of school started looking like a long time, and I began to think about playing in the NFL."

His Bakersfield coach, Pat Preston, said Buckey had the right stuff from Day 1.

"In high school football, most kids Jeff's size are slow," he said. "But Jeff was running five-flat 40s the whole time he was here. And he was over 300 pounds here too. Walsh had him trim down to 280.

"He was a very well-rounded kid. He didn't need football to get a scholarship--he had great grades and SAT scores. And yet a lot of people agreed his senior year that he was the best high school offensive lineman in the country."

For 1991-92, Buckey was the winner of the Dial Award as the nation's top student-athlete. In fact, the night he returned from Washington, D.C., after receiving the award was the night of Walsh's visit.

In the spring of 1992, he was runner-up to basketball star Jason Kidd in a state prep-athlete-of-the-year poll.

He is the son of a Bakersfield architect-contractor. His grandfather, Sheldon Harden, was the coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for 20 years.

In his NFL future, Buckey hopes to find time to try out for a U.S. Olympic team. He had the nation's best high school discus mark in his junior year, 210 feet 1 inch. And he put the high school shot 64-8 3/4.

"I competed a little with the college discus last year and got it out to 177 feet, but that's not close to where I'd need to be," Buckey said.

Buckey has developed steadily as a big-time college football standout. His offensive line coach, Monte Clark, says Buckey possesses a trait often found lacking in talented athletes.

"The best thing about Jeff is that he matches his great talent with great effort," Clark said.

"I've coached a lot of talented linemen who never could do that. I've even coached players who thought they were playing their hardest, but who weren't. Jeff has very high performance standards for himself and he makes that extra effort to get there.

"He's going to be a very, very high draft pick.

"We moved him from guard to tackle last spring, because the best thing he does is pass-block and we felt we'd need him most there."

And how. Because Stanford's running game is punchless through five games, Steve Stenstrom has thrown almost 200 passes. He has completed 67% of them, eight for touchdowns. But he's paying a price. Defensive units are teeing off on him.

Walsh concedes that his quarterback is taking too much punishment, saying this week, "You look at the tapes, and you wonder how he gets through it."

But no one is blaming No. 77, Stanford's right tackle.

And he won't blame anyone else.

"(Stenstrom has) taken more punishment than he should, and we're all guilty of that," Buckey said. "The problem is, we haven't established our run game yet and we're having to pass too much."

Buckey is one of two Pac-10 offensive linemen rated at the top by NFL scouts. The other is USC senior Tony Boselli.

In the modern lexicon of sports, the term complete package is often applied to athletes such as Buckey.

Clark, asked about Buckey's future, seemed to grope for a moment, trying to find something that would retard Buckey's development, then gave up.

"He has no limitations," he said. "I just don't see anything he hasn't got."

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