As a kid growing up in Gig Harbor, this must be the kind of college football game Michael Rector dreamed about.
The Washington Huskies, ranked 10th in the country, will host the No. 7-ranked Stanford Cardinal in a nationally televised game Friday night at Husky Stadium. And maybe this is exactly where Rector hoped the Huskies would be when he committed to UW on the last day of his junior year at Bellarmine Prep, where he starred as a receiver.
He just didn’t know at that time that when this day came, he would be wearing a Stanford uniform.
“Being from Washington, you kind of really have the UW stamped on your birth certificate,” Rector said Tuesday via telephone from Palo Alto. “Everyone wants to go be a Husky.”
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Rector did, too. He was committed to UW for nine months, he said, before changing his mind just before signing day in 2012, instead choosing to attend Stanford.
Miffed as UW fans might have been — “a lot of people in Washington didn’t really like me for a little bit there,” Rector said — it couldn’t have worked out much better for him. Now a fifth-year senior, Rector, a 6-foot-1, 189-pound receiver, has been a part of two Pac-12 championship teams, played in two Rose Bowls (and won one, in which he caught two touchdown passes), earned a degree in human biology and now, to satisfy his in-season academic requirements, he conducts stem cell research in a laboratory with Dr. Michael Longaker.
(That’s the same major as two other Stanford alumni with South Sound ties — Puyallup’s Joshua Garnett and Archbishop Murphy’s Sam Shober. Garnett, who now plays offensive line for the San Francisco 49ers, also studied with Rector in the Longaker lab.)
So no, Rector has no reason to second-guess the decision he made in February 2012.
“Over the course of the recruiting process, Stanford stuck by me even after I committed to Washington,” he said. “A lot of other schools fell off. Stanford stood by me. I took a couple trips down here, met with the coaches, came to a camp and really loved it. I fell in love with the campus and everything. Deep down, I just felt it was a better place for me to be at, personally. I wouldn’t trade that decision for the world.”
His production has steadily increased throughout his career. Rector caught 14 passes his freshman season — for 431 yards, an average of 30.8 yards per reception — then caught 24 passes as a sophomore and 34 last season as a junior. He has 13 receiving touchdowns in his career, and also had a 56-yard rushing touchdown this season against USC on an end-around handoff, a maneuver that helps keep defenses from keying completely on star tailback Christian McCaffrey.
That play also offered a fine illustration of Rector’s speed; Stanford coach David Shaw has said Rector can run sub-4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a skill that makes him an interesting NFL prospect.
He considered entering the draft last year, Rector said, before ultimately deciding to return to Stanford for his final season of eligibility. It wasn’t an easy call. But four-plus years after he chose the Cardinal the first time, he stuck with Stanford again.
“I’d wake up one morning wanting to leave,” he said, “and wake up the next wanting to come back to school for a fifth year. What I really needed was my mind and heart not to waver on the decision.”
So why did he stay?
“It really came down to, why would I want to leave a place that has given me so much, that I love so much, if I didn’t really have to?” Rector said. “I figured, why waste this one last year before I’m kind of forced to leave? I think that was it. The guys we have on this team, the camaraderie, the brotherhood, was difficult to say goodbye to.”
His parents still live in Gig Harbor, and he sought to secure “upwards of 30” tickets for friends and family for Friday’s game against the Huskies, who have what he calls “probably the best defense we’ve seen to date.”
“It should be special,” Rector said. “Going back home, it’s always a special thing, especially my last year of college football, going back to the hometown. It’s always an emotional game for me.”