PALO ALTO — There was never a point during the season that Drew Dalman felt the weight on his shoulders of what a potential next step would be in his football career.
In part, because jumping to the NFL was never on the Palma prodigy and Stanford center’s mind. It wasn’t discussed or brought up in passing during a pandemic shortened college football season.
“The choice wasn’t an option unless I played my best football,” said Dalman, a redshirt junior who declared last week for the NFL draft. “I really didn’t think about it until the season was over.”
Processing it all, though, came quickly for the 22-year-old following the team’s final game with UCLA. Through conversations with people that Dalman trusted with his future, a decision was made.
“I thought about what was important to me and if I was ready to leave,” Dalman said. “It’s tough to leave a place you love. But I felt I had to grab the opportunity and snatch it while I can.”
Over the next three-plus months, Dalman will be training with a group of NFL hopefuls in the East Bay with a personal trainer, gearing up for the NFL combine in February and pro days in March.
“Sure I felt like I left some things on the table at Stanford,” Dalman said. “What was important for me was a Pac-12 title, a national title. We didn’t accomplish that. But this has been kind of my dream.”
The NFL draft is slated to take place April 29 through May 1.
Dalman does have some guidance to lean on as his dad, Chris, spent eight years in the NFL with the 49ers as a center/guard, winning a Super Bowl in 1995.
“I probably asked more questions than gave advice,” said Chris Dalman, the president of Palma School. “I didn’t feel it was my place to tell him what he needs to do. It was more about pluses and minuses. He’s made a lot of decisions on his own to get to where he is right now.”
Nearly three decades after his dad was drafted in the sixth round out of Stanford by San Francisco, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Dalman will be going through the same process.
“It’s an ‘I go to him thing’ for advice,” Dalman said. “He’s gone through the process. He understands that it is stressful. But my dad reminds me that I need to enjoy this.”
The Herald’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2016 at Palma, Dalman started the past two years at center for Stanford, growing into a dominating and punishing leader in the trenches.
Projected to go anywhere between the second round and fifth round of the NFL draft, Dalman has tuned out all the expectations, choosing to concern himself with what he can control.
“It’s a waste of energy to speculate where I could go,” Dalman said. “I don’t look at teams and see if there is a need at my position. I have too many other things to worry about.”
Dalman, who will graduate this spring from Stanford with a degree in mechanical engineering, was a Pac-12 all-conference center this past season and named to the Outland Trophy (awarded to the nation’s best college football interior lineman) Watch List.
“Drew is a better player than I was at this stage and I stayed for a fifth year,” Chris Dalman said. “The conference recognized him as the best center. He’s reached a level where he knows where he sits. Now it’s the NFL’s decision to see where he falls.”
Dalman will spend the next six weeks building strength and increasing his quickness, as he will be tested in the 40-yard dash, bench press and agility drills at the NFL combine.
“There is nothing with my game that I’m perfectly satisfied with,” Dalman said. “I need to improve in all facets. There’s a level of physical maturity and physicality.”
While Dalman technically had two years of college eligibility left, as this past Pac-12 season did not count against eligibility because it was shortened due to the pandemic, the vision to take the next step came into focus after playing his final game — leaving Stanford on a four-game winning streak.
“You don’t leave college early unless you hear good news,” Dalman said. “If a team falls in love with you, (getting drafted) could happen earlier. I’m just excited to get on a team.”
Dalman is the first player from the county to leave college early and declare for the NFL draft. The last player in the county to be drafted was former Seaside High and MPC lineman Terry Poole, who was taken in the fourth round by the Seattle Seahawks out of San Diego State in 2015.
Because of the delayed start in the season due to the pandemic, Stanford didn’t finish its year until Dec. 18. Training for the NFL draft was just weeks away, leaving Dalman with a short time to come to a decision.
“We really didn’t have any conversations about this until the season ended,” said Drew’s father, Chris. “He had just a matter of days to work through the process. He’s very efficient with his time. He doesn’t worry about something he can’t control. It’s how he processes things.”
Dalman actually grew up more of a college football fan, spending more time watching television on Saturdays instead of Sundays.
“I guess I was a 49ers fan by default,” said Dalman, alluding to the fact that his father spent his entire playing career in San Francisco, although Chris Dalman became an assistant offensive line coach in Atlanta for two years.
Dalman has kept things in perspective. Level headed, he doesn’t put undue expectations on himself. If the NFL chooses him, he’s prepared for the path that’s ahead.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to get to play football for a job,” Dalman said. “It’s an incredible gift. In my mind, I’m ready for a new challenge.”
Contributed by local news sources