PALO ALTO, Calif. — Look closely tonight when the ninth-ranked Washington Huskies head south to take on Pac-12 North foe Stanford. If a Bryce Love run is pushed to the edge or a Dante Pettis pass reception spills into the Cardinal sideline you may catch a glimpse of North Olympic Peninsula greatness.
Clad in a cardinal jersey, white pants and white helmet, you may be familiar with No. 83 on the Stanford football team: Neah Bay’s Cameron Buzzell.
Buzzell, hero of the Red Devils’ state football championship last December and valedictorian of the school’s class of 2017, is a freshman walk-on wide receiver on one of the strongest football programs in the nation at one of its premier universities.
Persistence pays off
Quite the achievement for a player who showed up for football practice in eighth grade “maybe 5-feet tall and 115 pounds,” according to Neah Bay defensive coordinator T.J. Greene.
In today’s football lexicon, walk-ons come in two packages — preferred, also known as recruited or invited, and general walk-ons. Buzzell’s path to an NCAA Division I roster spot can be described as more persistent than preferred.
“I know he’s my child, but I’ve never seen a person so determined,” Cameron’s mother, Maiya Buzzell said. “People have told him you are coming from a small town on a tiny Indian reservation that plays 8-man football, this isn’t going to happen. But everything he did was with this one goal in mind. He was extremely goal-oriented, extremely motivated. So its really neat to see that for years my son was so motivated to achieve this goal and now he gets his shot to play D-1 football.
“This has been his dream since elementary school. His dream was to get a football scholarship. He didn’t get a football scholarship but obviously he’s proven himself worthy to be on a Pac-12 team.”
Buzzell said growing up watching college football players on television stuck with him and helped his motivation.
“It started when I was young, seeing college players on TV, NFL stars all came from college, so I always wanted to do that,” he said. “It’s something else when you play football and realize how difficult it can be. And then after high school there was some doubters, ‘You’re too small, you could probably play D3 maybe.’ But I never wanted to settle, I always wanted to reach high.”
Buzzell worked and worked to get better, spending his summers playing 7-on-7 football for Neah Bay and attending numerous football camps.
“I spent a lot of money on football camps since he was 8 years old,” Maiya said. “He’d been to 10-plus camps before he was a senior in high school. He used to work summertimes to help pay for those camps [fishing] with his dad [Larry].”
And for a player who starred for a state champion and came away with three football state titles and a basketball championship in his high school career, Buzzell was even better in the classroom, earning a 4.0 GPA at Neah Bay and admission to the most prestigious university on the West Coast.
“I sat him down pretty early on and told him if you want to play in college your first priority must be your grades,” Maiya said.
“Then it’s not getting into trouble, and to get accepted to a good college there are different activities you need to show in that application like being an ASB officer, a team captain.
“And Josh Monette, one of his really close friends that passed away, was really influential on Cam and told him he needed to do College Horizons.” College Horizons is a program for Native Americans and Alaskan and Hawaiian natives that works to increase the number of those students finding success at the college and graduate level.
Monette, 19, was swept to sea last April while on a break from his sophomore year at Ivy League school Dartmouth.
Before attending Stanford’s Admit Weekend last April, an introduction to the university for admitted students, Buzzell wrote a letter to the Stanford football program and followed up with graduate assistant Brad Idzik, son of former Seattle Seahawks vice president of football administration John Idzik. Idzik grew up in Mercer Island and was familiar with Neah Bay’s football prowess.
Idzik took Buzzell on a tour of the school’s football facilities and got to see Buzzell’s high school highlight tape on YouTube, a standout from other players with its use of a Makah song as its soundtrack as opposed to the more popular choice of contemporary rap music.
Buzzell returned home, graduated, and then came back to Stanford as part of the school’s Leland Scholars Program later in the summer, designed to facilitate the transition to college for incoming Stanford students who in Buzzell’s case, attended schools with limited advanced placement opportunities.
“I think it was the second week I was down there, I met up with them again, watched a practice, and it was really cool to see what they did during a full gear practice,” Buzzell said. “I got to meet [NFL Hall of Famer and current Denver Broncos general manager] John Elway and there was a Baltimore Ravens scout there as well.”
Buzzell missed out on Stanford’s season-opening trip to Sydney, Australia, for a game against Rice, but finished his academic work and soon joined the team for practices.
“After they got back it happened super quickly, they gave me a whole bunch of gear, then I had two days with no pads and then slowly got my shoulder pads and helmet.
“It was different than I thought it would be. I thought there would be a tryout, I thought I would have to prove myself to be on the team, but they sort of threw me out there and you have to learn everything, they aren’t going to hand you anything.”
Buzzell’s duties as a member of the scout team are to imitate the opposition’s offense while often going against Stanford’s No. 1 defense in full-speed scrimmages.
“We look at their routes, their splits and try to mimic the opposing offense as best as we can,” Buzzell said. “It’s fun being able to go up against some off the best players in the country.”
Buzzell has faced off against members of the Stanford secondary like safety Justin Reid, younger brother of San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, cornerback Alijah Holder, Quenton Meeks and Brandon Simmons.
“It’s quite a bit different than high school,” Buzzell said. “In Neah Bay we would do more hitting drills, and I’m only on offense here so there’s less of that. But we have individual [wide receiver] sessions, we have special [position] coaches. It’s a good different, though.”
His first game in uniform was Stanford’s home opener, a 58-34 victory over UCLA.
Buzzell said suiting up for home games is the payoff for all the work he puts in.
“It sort of helps me push through the hard times with football, the 7 a.m. [weight] lifts, the long meetings,” he said.
“I thought of going on the field at the Tacoma Dome for football or running on the court at Spokane Arena for basketball, but this was on a whole other level, fireworks, thousands of fans.
“I don’t feel intimidated, just ‘Wow, I’m on the same team as these guys. You feel the privilege. You see them on TV, a Heisman trophy-caliber runner [Love], it doesn’t seem real.”
Buzzell hosted his mom, good friend Matt Reamer and Reamer’s mom, Carol, for Stanford’s game with Oregon.
“The stadium, the facilities, the campus, you name it, is beautiful,” Maiya said. “We walked around a portion of the campus with him, its pretty large. We really enjoyed the visit.”
His dad will visit for the Big Game, Stanford’s annual rivalry game against Cal next week, and his mom, brother and two sisters are expected to come down for the Cardinal’s regular-season finale against Notre Dame.
“Since he can’t come home for Thanksgiving, we’re thinking about making him a Thanksgiving dinner, putting it in an ice chest and driving it down to him,” Maiya said.
As for the future, Buzzell, interested in pursuing an engineering degree, will take a heavy course load during the winter and spring. And with some players graduating, playing time may be a possibility at some point as a sophomore or as an upperclassman.
“They noticed from the highlight film that I was a playmaker, I got in here academically, so they knew I was a smart enough,” Buzzell said.
“I was able to learn the playbook for one of the more complex offensive teams in the country, so I hope to show them enough ability that I can someday, hopefully, play [in a game.]”