Notebook: Notre Dame Buncom’s special backstory
Notebook: Notre Dame
Buncom’s special backstory
By David Kiefer
STANFORD, Calif. – One of the revelations of two trying weeks for Stanford football has been the play of sophomore cornerback Frank Buncom. Thrown into action because of injuries to starters Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, Buncom responded with a pick-six against Washington State last week in his first collegiate start.
“He’s one of those guys who played on both sides of the ball, so he understands route combinations,” said David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “He understands quarterback timing, he understands leverage. When we brought him in for camp, we’d do the drills, and you didn’t have to teach him. Great technique.”
The name Frank Buncom is a special one in San Diego, where the Stanford player grew up. This Frank Buncom actually is Frank James Buncom IV. His grandfather, Frank Buncom II, was a three-time All-American Football League selection as a linebacker for the San Diego Chargers in the 1960s and a charter member of the team’s hall of fame.
At age 29, while a member of the Cincinnati Bengals on the morning of their 1969 season opener, roommate Ernie Wright was awakened in the team hotel to the sound of Buncom gasping for breath. Paramedics arrived, but were unable to save Buncom, who died of a blood clot that formed in his knee and traveled to his lungs.
Buncom wore No. 55 with the Chargers, a number later used by Junior Seau, and retired by the franchise in 2012, after Seau’s premature death.
His son, Frank III, was seven weeks old at the time, but grew to love the game as well and taught young Frank how to study film from the age of 7, in Pop Warner ball.
“It’s been ingrained in me from a very young age,” said Frank IV. “My dad has a hands-off coaching method. Growing up, he would ask me every year, ‘Do you want to take a year off of football?’ He was never the father that was going to force to play something I didn’t want to play. Obviously, I never did because I love the game.”
Despite never knowing his grandfather, Frank IV says he remains influenced by him.
“Most of the things I heard about him were not football-related,” Frank IV said. “Yes, he played for the San Diego Chargers and is in their hall of fame, but I’ve always heard about things how he was as a man, how he carried himself, and the things that he did for the children of the community.
“I’ve always thought of him less in the football aspect and more in how I can better myself to be a man and emulate him. And, when I pass on, people can continue to talk about the Frank Buncom name as giving back to the community and being a wholesome well-rounded person.”
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Buncom has known since he was a young child what he wants to do with his career: a neurosurgeon.
“I always wanted to be a doctor, and my grandmother, Frank II’s wife, passed away when I was around 7 years old, from pneumococcal meningitis,” said Buncom, a human biology major with a concentration on brain and behavior.
“It’s an infection with swelling around the brain from pneumococcal bacteria. I don’t know if I was 7 years old, but it just clicked, I want to be a neurosurgeon.”
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Christian McCaffrey’s status for Saturday’s game at Notre Dame most likely will be determined late in the week.
“Friday, or maybe game time,” Shaw said.
McCaffrey, the 2015 Associated Press Player of the Year, was removed from last week’s 42-16 loss to Washington State in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
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Back-to-back lopsided Pac-12 North losses — to Washington (44-6) and Washington State — have tested the Cardinal.
“I still believe we’ve got a very good football team, we’re just not playing like it,” Shaw said. “If we didn’t have the capabilities, I wouldn’t say it. But I think we have a good football team that’s trying to find its way.”
Though the offensive line has taken a lot of the heat, Shaw said that is unfair.
“I’m not pinning this on the offensive line,” Shaw said. “We’ve been inconsistent from 1 through 11 of the guys on the field.”
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Stanford players seem unanimous in trying to stay positive:
“The biggest thing is not to lose confidence in how good of a team we are,” senior linebacker Mike Tyler said. “We haven’t been playing up to our potential, and I really think the key is to look at the film and see what we executed poorly and what are strengths were. But we can’t get down on ourselves. We have more potential than any team since I’ve been here.”
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Said senior linebacker Peter Kalambayi:
“With a lot of teams, when you start losing, that’s when guys start becoming aggressive toward each other, start being combative with coaches, and to other players. I haven’t seen that at all with this team. That really gives me hope for the rest of the season.
“We’re going to approach each week trying to get better. Everybody understands we need to play better, everybody’s approaching it as such. I’m glad that nobody’s retaliating against anybody and there’s no animosity, because that’s normally what happens when teams start losing. I’m glad that’s not happening.”
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Said offensive lineman David Bright:
“We want to stress being efficient, being an efficient offense on first and second down. The offensive line especially has to take it on their shoulders this week and really improve on some things. That’s what we’re setting out to do.”
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Sophomore receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside has scored touchdowns in each of the past three games, despite never having a collegiate catch before that. He has accounted for Stanford’s only offensive touchdowns in those three games.
“He’s an outstanding young receiver who has a lot to learn,” Shaw said. “He’s had a couple of errors also, dropped a couple balls the last couple of games. But he is a tall, fast receiver, who’s very explosive, a great jumper, great catch radius. Quarterbacks like throwing the ball to those guys. A lot of margin for error.”
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Stanford hopes to maintain its hold on the Legends Trophy, the Irish crystal bowl on a redwood base that is awarded to the winner of the annual rivalry. The ‘legends’ who give the trophy its name come from the 1925 Rose Bowl, when a Stanford team coached by Pop Warner and featuring the great Ernie Nevers took on Knute Rockne’s Fighting Irish led by the “Four Horsemen.”
Notre Dame won that first meeting 27-10 to win its first national championship. Except for two years, Stanford and Notre Dame have played annually since 1988, including last year, when Notre Dame took a lead with 30 seconds left, only for Stanford to drive into range for a 43-yard Conrad Ukropina field goal as time expired for a 38-36 Cardinal victory at Stanford Stadium.
The loss knocked Notre Dame out of College Football Playoff discussion and helped Stanford to a final No. 3 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
This year, Stanford comes into the matchup 3-2 after two consecutive losses and Notre Dame is 2-4 after last week’s 10-3 loss in a rainstorm — actually, the fringes of Hurricane Matthew — at North Carolina State.
“For both of us, we’ve been wounded, literally, with injuries and with a couple of losses,” Shaw said. “But you have two proud football teams, two talented football teams, two physical football teams that every year has been one heck of a game. It’s going to be physical, it’s going to be intense. The records don’t matter.”
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Can Stanford find use from the Notre Dame-North Carolina State game film?
“Honestly, not much,” Shaw said. “Both teams were kind of in survival mode. It’s hard to take anything, knowing that neither team was really going to be able to throw the ball down the field, and ball handling was very difficult. Both teams minimized what they were asked to do. Outside of watching personnel, and a few things, it’s not very helpful.”
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Stanford’s struggles in running the ball, and taking into account the possible absence of McCaffrey, does not mean quarterback Ryan Burns is going to come out firing against the Irish.
“We’re not going to put even more on the quarterback,” Shaw said. “We want to be a balanced football team. Everything we’ve done up to this point, we need to do better. I think we can do better. To now put it on Ryan’s shoulders to go to Notre Dame and win the game for us, that’s not fair. We have to run the ball with efficiency. We have to keep the QB in rhythm and protect the passer, and make plays at the receiver position. I can’t put it on him.”
— #GoStanford —
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