STANFORD -- Barry Sanders could have enjoyed instant celebrity at Oklahoma State, where his famous father of the same name won a Heisman Trophy 25 years ago.
Instead he chose Stanford, where nine teammates also are sons of former NFL players.
For a school once better known for its madcap band than its football program, Stanford has let the genealogy out of the bottle. The Cardinal leads the Pac-12 in NFL offspring with 10, followed by Cal and UCLA, each with six sons of former pros on their roster.
"We don't talk about it a whole lot," said Sanders, a redshirt freshman running back. "We're one big family."
The family includes fathers with a collective 74 years of NFL experience. Receiver Kodi Whitfield's dad is former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Bob Whitfield. Safety Ed Reynolds' father Ed played for a decade as a linebacker for the New England Patriots, and running back Ricky Seale's dad Sam played 10 seasons as a cornerback, five with the Los Angeles Raiders.
The others in this select fraternity are Alex Carter (Tom), Nick Davidson (Jeff), Noor Davis (Chris), Josh Garnett (Scott), Andrus Peat (Todd) and Kevin Reihner (George).
The sons also are rising across the country with progenies of NFL stars Deion Sanders, Ray Lewis, Fred Taylor and Jack Del Rio launching collegiate careers this fall.
Many Division I programs attract retired players' sons, but few stockpile them like No. 5 Stanford, which plays at Army on Saturday.
The assimilation has been smoother because Stanford attracts the offspring of all kinds of accomplished families.
"If Barry Sanders goes to Oklahoma State, it is more of a big deal," recruiting coordinator Mike Sanford said.
Ultimately, the NFL parents sent their kids to Stanford because of the school's scholarly bona fides. Sanford said the parents know how fleeting a professional football career can be.
"When I decided to come here, it was a 40-year decision, not a four-year decision," said Peat, a 6-foot-7 offensive tackle whose father played for the St. Louis and Phoenix Cardinals and the Los Angeles Raiders.
Another theme among NFL families: Parents discouraged their sons from tackle football too early in life. At least in the case of Ed Reynolds, the restriction fueled his passion.
"I've been around the game since I was born," the 2012 All-Pac-12 free safety said. "It was one of my first loves. When I finally got the chance, I was not going to give it up."
Such determination might be more important than DNA, according to Daniel Coyle, author of "The Talent Code" and "The Little Book of Talent."
"Michael Jordan's son would be a lot better at basketball than he is if it was all about genes," he said.
The players' dads support the thesis, saying their sons had an internal drive to play major college football -- and beyond. Combine motivation with access to NFL locker rooms, and it is easy to see why these sons have joined the family business.
"It becomes an achievable, natural, common-sensical thing to imagine yourself to be," Coyle said. "You're growing something. It's not something he is born with and he is done."
In the case of the Whitfields, father and son share a passion but not a position. Bob was a 6-5, 318-pound left tackle who played at Stanford with current coach David Shaw. Kodi is a wiry 6-2, 196-pound receiver.
The younger Whitfield's first memories of the NFL are from the 1999 Super Bowl when his father played for the Atlanta Falcons. He said such experiences gave him insight into what it would take to forge his own path.
"They're not in awe of it," Shaw said of the offspring. "It's not too big for them because they've been around it their whole lives."
Because of an intimate knowledge of the game, many of the fathers keep a distance when it comes to coaches handling their kids.
When Barry Sanders joined his son on a recruiting trip to Stanford, the former Detroit Lions great stood in the background. He let Barry J., as the running back likes to be called, talk to professors and coaches.
Bob Whitfield likes to make himself invisible at practices, if that's possible for such an immense figure.
"If I get too close, I might be putting on a helmet," said Whitfield, who returned to Stanford last year to earn a degree after embarking on a 15-year NFL career.
Sharing campus with his father provided for some awkward moments for Kodi, then a freshman. But overall he enjoyed seeing dad on campus.
"It's not like he was at any parties," Kodi Whitfield said.
Even at Stanford, pops culture goes only so far.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.