Many Stanford students have painted their faces red and white and jingled their keys in anticipation of the kickoff. But few have lined up at center field, ready to tackle a 200-lb USC quarterback.
For Thomas Keiser ’11, starting linebacker for the Cardinal, this is the thrill of Stanford football. Not surprisingly, it’s an experience that he said is “difficult to describe.”
Keiser, who led the Cardinal last year with nine sacks as a defensive end, has smoothly shifted to the position of outside linebacker this year, alongside former defensive end Chase Thomas ’12. Both transitions took place under the direction of the Cardinal’s new defensive coordinator, veteran NFL coach Vic Fangio, as part of an effort to patch the holes in Stanford’s defense. The Cardinal has now switched to a 3-4 scheme – subtracting one lineman and adding one linebacker – which has shown promising results.
For Keiser, meanwhile, taking on new, bold roles is not limited to the football field. Since freshman year, Keiser has been involved with the Stanford Conservative Society (SCS), a group that emerged just one quarter before Keiser’s arrival at Stanford. For the past two years, Keiser has served as one of its vice presidents, and he currently serves as its financial officer.
According to its website, the simple goal of SCS is to provide venues for conservatives, libertarians, and moderates to meet, mingle, discuss their views, listen to prominent political leaders, and occasionally work on community service projects – such as their annual “Christmas Cards for Soldiers” event.
However, on a predominantly liberal campus, emboldening students to join SCS can present a challenge. Encouraging quiet conservatives and moderates to try out SCS events is one of Keiser’s goals – especially outreach to athletes.
“For whatever reason, it seems that athletes are often more conservative than the rest of the campus population,” said Keiser, though he acknowledges that athletes’ views, like those of the general Stanford population, span all across the political spectrum. Particularly in the case of football, Keiser remarked that “there’s a pretty significant group of conservatives on the team.”
Keiser offered an interesting link between the athletic and conservative mindset. “I actually see conservatism as a metaphor for football,” explained Keiser. Like conservatism, he said, “Football is a meritocracy. Each player starts with different abilities, different strengths. But everyone makes the best of what they’ve given.” In such meritocracies, Keiser continued, achievement and improvement are “based on drive and work ethic.”
Keiser admitted that the heavy time commitment of practice, combined with rigorous academics, often leaves athletes at Stanford with less time for political participation. In the case of football, Stanford’s players wake up anywhere between 6:30 and 8:30 am, attend class in the morning and afternoon, and then have football practice – including strategy meetings – from 2 pm until around 7 pm.
Yet according to Keiser, the time commitment of practice needn’t necessarily impede one’s academics. “It may sound strange, but I actually like to take slightly harder classes, or more units, during football season.” Keiser explained that during football season, he’s already in a “very focused,” time-efficient mindset and can manage to get more done.
As for why he’s made the Stanford Conservative Society a priority, Keiser said that he’s “always had an interest in politics and current events,” and he felt passionate about a number of conservative issues. Keiser described himself as leaning libertarian, and he has the most interest in domestic issues, such as the size of government, privacy rights, and the 2nd Amendment.
Keiser feels strongly about supporting American troops. “It doesn’t matter what you think of the wars,” he asserted. “When there are people out there risking their lives for this country, that’s something you’ve to respect and appreciate.”
According to SCS President Tommy Schultz ‘11, Keiser “has been a very valuable asset to the Stanford Conservative Society through his membership recruitment and his ability to facilitate event coordination.” Schultz also describes Keiser as having “a great personality that combines a stern motivation with a friendly demeanor.”
Keiser plans to continue his role in SCS this year, while also working toward completing a major in Science, Technology and Society and a minor in Arabic. As for football, Keiser feels hopeful about the Cardinal’s prospects this year, although he stressed that “it’s important not to get ahead of yourself.” While the team’s goal is to win the Pac-10, he said that right now, everyone is “taking it one week at a time. We’re focusing, training hard, and just making the best of every opportunity.”