Skov repeated his sophomore year and immediately clicked with Jim McDougal, his AP U.S. history teacher and dorm parent. McDougal was impressed by the empathy shown by Skov, who went out of his way to befriend foreign students. After all, he had been one himself in Mexico. "He's a compassionate kid. He listened to kids and understood kids," says McDougal. "And when he spoke, everyone listened."
With his mom sick and his family split apart, Skov thrived in the structure and stability that Trinity-Pawling offered. McDougal and his wife, Nicolle, provided familylike support, clearing out a section of their fridge for Skov's food, having him babysit their kids and leaving the door open so he could drop by whenever he wanted. Skov took a schedule filled with AP classes, scored a 1,300 math-verbal combo on the SAT and had an offer from Stanford about 18 months after getting thrown off his high school team.
"I owe [McDougal] all the credit for helping me figure it out," Skov says, "because at that time it wasn't working with my dad."
Along with a traditional grade, Trinity-Pawling also grades effort. When Peter received Shayne's grades every three weeks, he'd e-mail Shayne and McDougal with "Peter's Plan," a multipoint improvement strategy. "That school was nothing short of a miracle," Peter says. "I sent my kid there as an act of desperation. He was on his way to a construction job, and they turned him into a Stanford student. Are you kidding me?"
Skov earned enough respect at Trinity-Pawling to get elected head prefect his senior year, an honor he describes as "the Hogwarts version of class president." But he didn't completely avoid trouble, such as when he tried "antiquing" a neighboring room. The prank involves filling a bag with baby powder, sliding it under a door and stomping on it. Skov's attempt to white out his neighbor worked too well, as the powder triggered the fire alarm, and the village of Pawling's fire department showed up at 2 a.m. "We had a very uncomfortable discussion about being a leader," says McDougal.
No one is holding a grudge: The school rescheduled a football scrimmage to Friday night so students and faculty can attend Stanford's game at Army, 45 miles away, on Sept. 14. And Skov mailed his 2011 Orange Bowl game jersey to Dave Coratti, the former football coach and current associate headmaster. Says Skov, "I can't say enough about how much patience they had with me and steered me in the right direction."
ON A campus as notoriously diverse and idiosyncratic as Stanford's, it's easy for a half-black, half-white, half-Mexican kid to embrace his inner geek and not stand out. One of Skov's favorite memories came when he visited a friend at the Enchanted Broccoli Forest, an on-campus co-op. He walked into the waning moments of an alcohol-fueled spelling bee, in which the contestants were dressed up as different countries, ranging from the Vatican to Papua New Guinea. "I'm kind of a nerdy guy, but I've never watched a spelling bee," he says. "For 20 minutes I was on the edge of my seat."
Skov's first two years at Stanford buzzed along; he got good grades in his engineering classes and loved the witty banter of the Stanford locker room. ("The unspoken beauty of this team," he calls it.) On the field, he emerged as a Luck-like defensive presence. He became a starter seven games into his freshman season, led the team in tackles as a sophomore and appeared destined for a three-and-done career. His worst transgression: freelancing too much on defense, a sign of his superior instincts.
The crescendo came at the Orange Bowl following his sophomore season, when he had three sacks in a 40--12 blowout of Virginia Tech. Skov, who calls the night an "out-of-body experience," was so locked in that defensive coordinator Derek Mason remembers Skov asking for a specific blitz and then sacking the quarterback when it was called.
The crash came three games into his junior season, at Arizona. Skov collided with teammate Johnson Bademosi, leaving him with such a gruesome left-knee injury that teammates held up towels around him to block the television cameras. Skov's grandmother turned off the radio so his mom wouldn't worry. "Everything stopped," Shaw says. "When he got hurt, everybody said, 'That's Superman, he can't get hurt.' "