If you want to get Bryce Love excited, smiling a little wider, talking a little faster, ask him about the Introduction to Statistical Methods class he took over the summer.
Or about the electric bicycle that whizzes him around campus. Five or six minutes from his dorm to the main quad.
“It’s not the fastest,” he says. “But it’ll get me from one point to another.”
Not that the Stanford running back dislikes talking football. It’s just that so many other topics interest him.
Like graduating early with a degree in human biology. Or stem cell research. Or looking ahead to the MCAT exam for medical school.
“Planning for the future,” he says as he walks off the field on a bright, warm day after practice.
With an abundance of speed and moves, a knack for seeing the field and breaking long runs, Love ranks among the leading Heisman Trophy candidates heading into Saturday’s showdown between No. 10 Stanford and No. 17 USC.
But with so much else going on in his life, there isn’t a ton of time for interviews and television appearances, the politicking that surrounds the game’s highest individual honor.
If that hurts his chances of winning this winter, so be it. Or, as Love says, “wherever the chips fall is where they fall.”
This laissez-faire attitude probably won’t quiet the chatter around him, a buzz that arose last spring when he decided to return for his senior season instead of leaving school early for the NFL. The noise ratcheted up a notch or two, with the addition of some second-guessing, when San Diego State stacked defenders close to the line of scrimmage and held him to 29 yards in 18 carries last week.
“Everyone will talk about Bryce’s lack of yardage,” Stanford coach David Shaw says. “Bryce doesn’t care; we won the game.”
But the Heisman is a lot about image, with an unspoken tradition of candidates and their athletic departments finding inventive, sometimes outlandish, ways to catch the attention of voters.
In 1970, Notre Dame quarterback Joe Theismann shifted the pronunciation of his last name from Thees-man to Thighs-man. Brigham Young sent out neckties to campaign for Ty Detmer and Oregon paid $250,000 to plaster a 100-foot picture of Joey Harrington on the side of a Manhattan building in New York.
None of that sounds particularly appealing to Love, who insists: “I’m just a kid from Wake Forest, North Carolina … not many people know where that is.”
Teammates describe him as a confirmed video gamer and cartoon watcher. If they happen to leave something lying around, he will quickly grab it and hide it.
“Bryce holds himself to be straight forward, very professional,” fellow running back Cameron Scarlett says. “Behind the scenes, he’s a little more goofball.”
In the classroom, Love has spent three years loading up on serious classes, taking summer courses, staying on track to graduate before Christmas.
“It starts out with the kind of person he is,” running backs coach Ron Gould says. “He wants to be great at everything he does.”
Last season, he overcame a persistent sore ankle to average a gaudy 8.1 yards per carry on the way to 2,118 yards. His flair for big plays involved more than just 4.3 speed in the 40.
“You can’t really pinpoint one thing,” California linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk says. “He has a lot of great attributes.”
Winning the 2017 Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back, Love chose to postpone instant millions in the NFL because he preferred to get bigger and stronger before jumping to pro football. He wanted to lead the Cardinal to another winning season. He wanted that diploma.
The Heisman, it seems, ranked well down the list.
So maybe people shouldn’t have been surprised when he skipped the Pac-12 media day in July, choosing to speak briefly with reporters by Skype instead.
“Me, personally, I really wanted to be there to represent the university,” he says. “But I decided I just wasn’t able to make it happen this year.”
His reasoning was rock solid — he had already missed a few days of summer school and could not afford another absence — but would the best player in the Southeastern Conference or the Big 12 have passed on a chance to meet-and-greet with assembled voters?
“Our focus is going to be on having the best team we can have, the most well-rounded team we can have, the most-balanced offense,” Shaw says. “We’re not going to do the Bryce Love stat watch.”
From a cynical point of view, this approach may have contributed to four Stanford players — Toby Gerhart, Andrew Luck twice, Christian McCaffrey and, last fall, Love — finishing second in the Heisman balloting over the last nine seasons.
But outside influences won’t change anything about the way the Cardinal program operates.
When San Diego State focused on Love, Stanford quickly shifted gears, burning the Aztecs for 332 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Against the Trojans, the passing game could again prove decisive.
“Stopping the run on early down-and-distances is imperative,” USC coach Clay Helton says. “Especially with a guy like Bryce.”
Away from Saturdays, Stanford officials have decided to limit media access to Love, offering him to local reporters once a week for 5-10 minutes. They will make exceptions for television and national reporters, but not many.
“Everybody wants to talk to him at every opportunity … he just can’t do it all,” Shaw says. “So we’ll pick and choose. And there are going to be some times where we take the load off him and he gets the chance to be a college kid.”
Which sounds fine to Love.
“My senior year, last go-around,” he says. “I’m excited.”
In the end, that might explain why he likes discussing school and his electric bike. Why he doesn’t seem the least bit preoccupied with Heisman prattle.
There’s so much else to talk about.
Follow @LAtimesWharton on Twitter