Shayne Skov is close to 100 percent and he's back at Stanford for a fifth season to wrap up his college career "the right way."
Skov is one of eight starters returning to a Cardinal defense that led the Pac-12 Conference in almost every statistical category last season. He's the team's emotional heartbeat, its most experienced player and with his left knee fully recovered from a 2011 ACL injury, Stanford has a good chance of repeating as Pac-12 champions this year.
"I think we can improve on last year's success," Skov said during the annual Bay Area college football media day event in San Francisco on Monday. "I want to finish this off the right way."
The fifth-year senior, who's on the Bednarik Award, Butkus Award and Nagurski Award watch lists, started 13 games for the Cardinal last season, but he lacked his trademark explosiveness as he was still recovering from a knee injury that knocked him out of the 2011 season after the third game.
"It was immensely frustrating," Skov said. "When you've got a high level of expectation for yourself and you just can't find a way to do it — you're incapable — it's tough."
Skov had the option of splitting for the NFL in April, but he chose to return to the Farm to complete his degree and finish his college career playing his best football.
Coach David Shaw said Skov could benefit from playing at less than 100 percent last season.
"It makes you more conscious of being specific, being in the right place," he said. "When you're really fast sometimes and you can run sideline to sideline, your eyes don't need to be perfect, you can kind of just go on emotion."
Skov said his knee felt "completely different" during spring ball in April and he's continued to progress throughout summer workouts.
He said his strength numbers are up, he's close to matching his personal best in squats, and his fluidity on the gridiron has returned.
"I feel great," Skov said. "I'm ready to surpass everything I've done in my career so far."
Shaw said he also noticed a change in the spring.
"When we flipped the ball outside and I saw him run full speed and knock [Anthony] Wilkerson out of bounds for no gain, I said, 'oh my gosh, I remember that guy,'" he said.
With Skov at full speed, the defense should benefit from the experience and familiarity it has as a unit.
"Those guys have confidence in each other and that's a big deal," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said.
But to live up to expectations, Stanford needs to fight off complacency and Skov's greatest asset might be his ability to motivate his teammates.
"On game day, his passion and his energy drives our team," Shaw said. "That's one thing that we were hoping to not have to replace this year and thankfully that's back."2013 schedule
Sept. 7 vs. San Jose St. 8 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Army 9 a.m.
Sept. 21 vs. Arizona St. TBA
Sept. 28 at Washington St. TBA
Oct. 5 vs. Washington TBA
Oct. 12 at Utah TBA
Oct. 19 vs. UCLA TBA
Oct. 26 at Oregon St. TBA
Nov. 7 vs. Oregon 6 p.m.
Nov. 16 at USC TBA
Nov. 23 vs. Cal TBA
Nov. 30 vs. Notre Dame TBA