Stanford’s virtual-reality technology, obtained via the football program’s partnership with STRIVR Labs in Palo Alto, Calif., allows its quarterbacks to prepare for any defensive alignment without stepping foot on the field, essentially substituting crucial mental repetitions for the wear and tear of practice.

Every little advantage helps, even if most of the Cardinal’s practices this spring involved far less hitting than one might expect — minus a single daily session in particular: a set time devoted to full-contact drills, with tackling and blocking occurring at full speed.

Stanford coach David Shaw will preface these sessions with a message. Block high and tackle high, he’ll tell his team, and stay face to face and chest to chest.

“The game is still blocking and tackling, and avoiding blocks and avoiding being tackled,” Shaw said. “And the only way to get good at that is by doing it.”

When it comes to practice, many programs, such as Stanford, Temple and several others, have clung to more time-honored habits to help mirror a game-day atmosphere. For Stanford, there’s a simple reason for sticking with tradition: Long viewed as one of the more imposing teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Cardinal find it impossible to otherwise replicate the speed and physicality found on an individual Saturday.

“For me, to go the entire practice without practicing ‘real football’ is hard,” said Shaw. “I don’t know how you can ask 19-year-old kids to flip the switch and all of a sudden do something on game day — with all the pressure and all the emotion — that he hasn’t done in a week. That to me is difficult.”

Added Temple coach Matt Rhule, “Our thing is, when you go, you go. You have to. It’s unsafe to put kids out there in the game to play at a speed that they haven’t practiced, and practiced for a long time.”

 

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