Back in high school, Gophers thrower Devin Stanford not only excelled in track but also lettered in volleyball and basketball.
That’s why when Minnesota was the only one to offer Stanford a track scholarship, she deeply considered enrolling at Concordia University in Chicago because there, she had the option to compete in track and volleyball.
But thanks to her brother, Stanford recognized the benefits of being a Division I student-athlete. And now, she hopes to finish her collegiate career with her first Big Ten title.
“My brother played football at Northwestern, and my aunt competed at Wisconsin, and they told me that being a Division I athlete is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Stanford said. “If someone sees that in you, take it.”
Luckily for Gophers throwing coach Peter Miller, Stanford listened to her family.
Earlier this outdoor season, Stanford broke the Gophers’ program record in the hammer throw. The Milwaukee native also owns the third-best indoor weight throw in program history.
“She is ‘Gopher throwing,’” Miller said. “She’ll put up those eye popping numbers, but she also cares a whole lot about her teammates, and I know they have a lot of respect for her.”
But when Gophers head coach Matt Bingle arrived four years ago, he didn’t foresee Stanford becoming one of the best throwers in the Big Ten.
Because Stanford redshirted her first year on campus, the new coach only had her high school results to judge her potential.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Bingle said. “I didn’t recruit her, [and I] didn’t know much about her. But if you would have asked me about her becoming one of the best Gopher throwers ever, I probably would have doubted you.”
Respecting the process
When Stanford’s brother and aunt described how special it is to be a Division I athlete, they failed to emphasize the work involved with making it happen.
It didn’t take long, however, for Stanford to learn how she needed to improve.
“[Redshirting] was an eye-opening experience,” Stanford said. “It taught me that I had a lot to do in order to get to a level where I can actually compete with other Division I athletes.”
During the summer after her redshirt year, Stanford put in the work to rise through the Big Ten ranks.
While some athletes may have unwound and relaxed after a long season, Stanford went straight back to work. And it paid off.
The next year as a redshirt freshman, Stanford was the Gophers top discus thrower and finished 13th in the event at the Big Ten outdoor championships.
“She came back [from the summer] stronger, more fit and just had an all-around better mindset,” Bingle said. “That’s kind of when I knew she could become something special one day. She proved she had the work ethic.”
Miller was hired as the women’s new throwing coach before the 2013-14 season. And with a new change in leadership, there was an adjustment period for Stanford.
“Last year was a lot of learning and a lot of trying new things, and sometimes those new things didn’t work,” Miller said. “Results wise, it still looked good on paper, but I think we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, I guess.”
The two have since found a common ground, which has allowed Stanford to strengthen her focus on throwing.
“Once we put the rocky start behind us, we just focused on turning me into the best thrower I can be,” Stanford said. “I have learned a lot from [Miller], and I’m definitely lucky to learn from him.”
Last year, Stanford admitted she was a little overwhelmed during her first appearance at the NCAA championships last year, where she finished 15th in the hammer throw.
With the beginning of that qualifying process starting in less than two weeks with the Big Ten championships, Stanford is fully focused on capturing a Big Ten championship.
“I learned a lot from going to the NCAA championships last year. Not necessarily track stuff, but just dealing with all the pressure,” Stanford said.
Whether or not she brings home the Big Ten championship, Stanford is planning for her life after her collegiate career.
She said she’ll be heading home to Milwaukee this summer to help prepare middle and high school kids for college. Eventually, she wants to become a special education teacher and possibility coach on the side.
“[Coaching] is definitely something I’m considering since so many coaches have influenced my life,” Stanford said. “But that can wait. Now, it’s all about finishing strong.”