STANFORD — Tight End University is graduating two more of its finest.
All-American Zach Ertz and fellow redshirt junior Levine Toilolo announced Monday that they would forego their final year of eligibility at Stanford to enter the NFL draft.
While the moves had been somewhat expected, the Cardinal’s recent run of success — and the emergence of quarterback Kevin Hogan — made both consider returning for one more run at a national title.
“Kevin’s special, man,” Ertz said by phone. “All those guys coming back on defense, I think they’re going to be one of the best teams in the country next year. They’re going to be really good. But at the same time, I have to do what’s best for me and my family at this time. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
Luke Kaumatule and Devon Cajuste will be in the mix to replace both next season. Standout fullback Ryan Hewitt also has played tight end sparingly, and Stanford coach David Shaw said last week that tight ends have been his biggest focus in recruiting.
After all, the two are the latest Cardinal tight ends to head to the NFL.
Coby Fleener was drafted 34th overall by the Indianapolis Colts last year. Jim Dray (2010) is playing for the Arizona Cardinals and Konrad Reuland (2011) for the New York Jets.
“Stanford’s had a lot of great tight ends for sure,” Ertz said. “Guys like Jim and Konrad really started it lately, and I’m just thankful to have been a part of it.”
Ertz submitted paperwork to the NFL to gauge where he could be selected. He’s expected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick in April.
After playing in the Orange Bowl and Fiesta Bowl the previous two years, Ertz had a team-best 69 receptions for 898 yards and six touchdowns while leading No. 8 Stanford (12-2) to the Pac-12 Conference title and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The Cardinal had not won the Rose Bowl since 1972.
Ertz delivered in the biggest moments of the year, too. He caught the tying touchdown to force overtime in a win at top-ranked Oregon, the winning score against No. 2 Southern Cal and a 17-yard reception on fourth-and-9 on the final drive of regulation against Arizona to rally Stanford from a two-touchdown deficit for an overtime victory.
The 6-foot-6, 252-pound Ertz starred at nearby Monte Vista High School in Danville, where coaches convinced him to leave basketball behind and focus on football. Former 49ers standout and four-time Pro Bowl tight end Brent Jones also helped mentor and mold Ertz.
69 Catches by Zach Ertz this season
898 Yards receiving by Ertz
6 Touchdowns by Ertz