For his final project for the class, he weighed leaving early against staying. And after choosing Stanford because of football, Trent stayed thanks to its academics.
“Statistically speaking, in almost every outcome, graduating in the long term was more financially successful than leaving a year early, especially with the average NFL career being around 2.5 years,” Trent surmised. “It was risky to come back. It could have gone terribly wrong, but I thought that I had my fate in my owns hands and was going to take the bull by the horns and go back.”
After making his decision, Trent set out to make sure everyone knew that his breakout fourth year was no fluke.
He did more than just that. The country boy from the outskirts of Arizona solidified himself as one of the best defensive players in college football, and in Stanford history. Before the season, Trent was named a team captain, as chosen by his teammates, and at the end of the year, he was a semifinalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi Awards, and was a consensus All-American.
No. 93 had 15 sacks, more than any other player in college football. His 23.5 tackles for a loss were good for second in the nation. The Cardinal were a Top 10 scoring defense and were third nationally against the rush. No defensive front was feared more than the one featuring Trent rushing from the edge—Stanford led the nation with 44 sacks for 310 yards. That team success, drove to one of the best individual seasons in school history.
“It was a great thing to be a part of,” Trent said of his time at Stanford. “It was a lot of work, especially to stay on top of all the new talent they were bringing in, and keeping my starting role. I definitely had a chip on my shoulder my whole time there, like somebody was right at my heels, trying to take my job, or trying to beat me, or another outside linebacker on another team was out-working me somewhere. So I was very, very obsessed with my work ethic and everything I was doing, almost to an unhealthy level.”
With his degree mostly finished, Trent kept his academic workload light his senior year and dove head-first into preparing for his career in the NFL.
“It was really a great transitional year to the NFL because I really was a professional football player that year. That was all I did. I could watch extra tape and pick up things from the film I had never even thought of before. Every week I would be in there for hours, watching film on this big screen until I found something. I just needed one gem every week that would help me—and sure enough, every week I would be put in a situation that I saw on tape and I knew exactly what to do. I was able to crank out one or two sacks a game almost all season and it was pretty cool. It was a cool feeling to put in the work and be rewarded.”
Trent’s super senior year began with a two-sack game in a win over San Jose State. Another highlight came on the road a few weeks later against Washington State. Similar to his pick a year prior against UW, TM showed off his athleticism, snaring an Austin Apodaca pass off the line, and returning it 30 yards for a touchdown. Stanford rolled to a 55-17 win over the Cougars.
Unfortunately, the Cardinal slipped up twice on the road in the ultra-competitive Pac-12 Conference, falling to Utah and USC—but they won a big one at home when it counted. No. 5 ranked Stanford played host to No. 3 Oregon on Thursday night in primetime. No. 93 split a sack and spearheaded a defensive effort that held the high-flying Ducks to just 312 total yards and 62 yards on the ground while ending Oregon’s national title hopes for a second consecutive season.
That win once again gave the Cardinal a leg up in the Pac-12 North. Stanford smashed Cal, 63-13, to close out its conference slate, and finished the regular season with a win over Notre Dame. Then Trent headed home once again. He had one sack and seven tackles to lead Stanford to a dominant 38-17 win over Arizona State on the road in the Pac-12 title game—one last hurrah in a terrific collegiate career on the West Coast that brought back-to-back league championships.
“We really dominated the Pac-12,” Trent said. “After we were winning, we wanted everyone’s best shot. I mean, Cal is supposed to be our rivalry game, but it seemed like every week was a rivalry game for us. Notre Dame is a rivalry. USC is a rivalry. Oregon is a rivalry. UCLA was a rivalry. So it was almost like every week we were playing in a big game, a big rivalry match, a big grudge match, and we just tried to set the tone.”
The second straight Pac-12 crown earned Stanford another trip to the Rose Bowl, where they played perhaps the only team in the nation that could rival their defensive tenacity: Michigan State. It was another Pac-12-Big 10 slugfest. No. 93 added sack No. 15 and four total tackles on the day in Pasadena, but the Cardinal came up just short in a 24-20 defeat.