Gerhart gets a little help from home

Times Staff Writer

Stanford football Coach Jim Harbaugh is partial to athletes whose fathers coached them, because he used to be one of those athletes.

So when his star running back, Toby Gerhart, calls home nearly every day to talk to his father Todd, and maybe hears a nugget of advice about the way his feet were moving or the way he cut right or left, Harbaugh isn’t insulted. He’s pleased.

“Kids who have been coached by their fathers, they are almost always really coachable kids,” Harbaugh said. “They take advice, they’re willing to learn. I’m happy to have them.”

Toby was coached by Todd for four years at Norco High, where Toby broke the state high school career rushing record, running for 9,622 yards. In his spare time, Gerhart was a baseball star and he continues playing that dual role for the Cardinal.


It’s football season now, though, and Gerhart, a 6-foot-1, 228-pound junior, is coming off a performance in which he ran for 116 yards against Arizona.

Gerhart has rushed for at least 100 yards in four games this year, the first Stanford back to do that since Brian Allen in 2001. Going into today’s game against UCLA at the Rose Bowl, Gerhart’s 91.6 yards rushing per game ranks fourth in the conference, this only a year after he had knee surgery.

Seemingly on the verge of a breakout season when he came off the bench to gain 140 yards in 12 carries in less than three quarters against San Jose State, Gerhart suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

“I think some people doubted whether I’d come back to football,” Gerhart said. “I wasn’t one of them.”

Gerhart came by his sports life naturally. Playing football, baseball and basketball is all he remembers.

“I think my first memory of anything was wearing a little football jersey and catching passes from my dad,” Gerhart said in a telephone interview this week. “I was the water boy for my dad’s team. I was always watching games with him. I think I was learning about football forever.”

Todd Gerhart was also a running back at Norco High, and then at Cal State Fullerton. He played in the USFL and briefly in the NFL for the Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings before getting into coaching. He’s in Norco’s athletic hall of fame, as is Toby’s mother, Lori, who starred in basketball.

Toby’s brother, Garth, is a redshirt freshman football player at Arizona State. He has triplet sisters, and two of them, Teegan and Kelsey, plan to play softball at Stanford, while the third, Whitley, is hoping to play college volleyball. His youngest brother, Coltin, is an eighth-grade quarterback and Todd says he may be the best athlete of the bunch.


Stanford baseball Coach Mark Marquess isn’t into evaluating individual Gerhart athletes. He’s just happy to have the chance to coach Toby.

“It’s rare that an athlete the caliber of Toby gets the chance to play two sports at a high level,” Marquess said. “And it’s rare for a university to encourage that ability. I think Jim [Harbaugh] and I encourage Toby to do both sports. I think it helps him.”

Harbaugh says the hand-eye coordination that makes Gerhart a pro prospect as an outfielder and hitter helps Gerhart in football. “By honing one skill during baseball season, it helps him in other areas during football season,” Harbaugh said. “I love it that Toby plays two sports. I love it that he’s a son of a coach.”

Todd Gerhart said he purposely didn’t coach Toby until high school.


“I stayed away from Little League, Pop Warner. I did not want to do that,” Todd said. “A lot of fathers wouldn’t have stayed away. I didn’t want him to be burned out on me and I think that has helped. I think Toby and I enjoy each other now because of that.”

Toby says he loves that his father can suddenly drop down into a stance in the driveway to illustrate a point, and he also loved that his father didn’t pamper him or treat him more harshly than other players.

Todd disagreed a little bit. “I was probably over the edge when Toby was a ninth-grader on the varsity and I told him, ‘You made the varsity team and I’m not going to say, great, you’ll get to play in a year or two.’ I told him he was on the varsity and he’d better play on that level and I didn’t care what grade he was in. Maybe that was a little harsh.”

As the Bruins try to defend against Gerhart today, Todd said there was some irony.


Wayne Moses, UCLA’s running backs coach, was the lead recruiter on Toby for Stanford.

“A big reason Toby went to Stanford was Wayne,” Todd said.

“I think if Wayne had been at UCLA, Toby would be a Bruin now.”