Stelly continues Pios' linebacker tradition
CROWLEY – Coach Lewis Cook has built a reputation for offensive genius when it comes to game planning for an opponent. As career win 300 rapidly approaches, Cook continues to mold perhaps his most creative offensive attack in 17 seasons at Notre Dame.
Even so, the Pios head coach is quick to credit a phase of the game he entrusts in the hands of others. Defense!
“No matter how good you are on offense, you have to be able to stop the other team. So, we’ve always looked to build our team around defense. We try to find kids athletic enough to do what we coach on defense and a lot of times that means putting some of your better players on that side of the ball.”
There are a lot of those players this season, including one keeping the spotlight on his position. Senior Hunter Stelly is making sure “Linebacker High” is alive and well at Notre Dame.
“He’s a tough, athletic kid,” said Cook. “We watched him as a freshman going to the state track meet and throwing the javelin and saw explosive power in his body. We figured he would be a good fit for what we do on defense.”
Stelly finished third at the state meet that year. He has since won the 3A Javelin the past two state meets and last year threw over 200 feet to shatter a school record that had stood for over 20 years.
On the football field, he is rarely satisfied with the type performance that others will never achieve. Even so, there may not be anyone that enjoys being out there more than Stelly.
“For me, it is most enjoyable knowing that at Notre Dame you have to work hard and earn whatever comes to you,” Stelly noted. “Being out there with the game on the line and having guys around you, good friends, that have put in the same hard work is just hard to describe. That’s what being a part of Notre Dame football is all about.”
In the Pios scheme, the LB is usually in the headlines with impressive, sometimes ridiculous statistics. Stelly registered 75 solo stops and 111 total tackles on the way to the state title game last season. That included 11 tackles for losses, 3 sacks and 9 quarterback hurries. He also broke up 6 passes, forced three fumbles and recovered two.
“Hunter has consistently been one of our better tacklers,” notes Pios defensive coordinator James McCleary. “He has quickness about the way he plays to go along with the size and strength to take on blocks, play through them and make tackles. He is so natural and explosive and that aggressiveness makes him a better football player.”
Coach Mac should know since he has worked with just about all the great linebackers in 15 years coaching the Pios with Cook, the past six as head of the defense. The pair has tutored eleven linebackers to All-State acclaim and some to careers at the next level.
“I get asked to name the top five linebackers to have played for us and I can’t because there are a lot more than that. They have all had different skill sets, all with some things they do a little better than others before them and all outstanding high school players.”
It started with Jeremy Provost in 1997 on the outside. Mitch Shoffiet followed with two seasons in the middle and Adam Meche moved inside for the honor in 2000. In ’02 and ‘03, J.T. Casanova was a physical presence in the middle.
“He really dominated the inside,” added coach Mac. “He was the kind of player that intimidated opponents with his size and aggressiveness. It was unfortunate he had an injury halt his college career because he would have been fun to watch.”
Greg Harmon (02-04) earned the honor on the outside, playing his senior season with Lance Meche (04-05), who followed Casanova in the middle.
Ryan Champagne took over in 2006 for two seasons in the middle. Cook had coached his dad, Randy, who went on to play for the UL Ragin Cajuns. Ryan played with the same toughness to earn the state honor playing with D.J. Welter on his side.
Welter then moved to the middle for the ‘08 and ’09 seasons, playing with outside LB Hunter Stover. They would both make All-State, Stover now a kicker for the Ragin Cajuns and Welter starting at linebacker for LSU.
“D.J. was big, strong, fast and instinctive,” continued McCleary. “He was the prototype Division 1 linebacker. Others didn’t have his mold, but they had the same caliber of play.”
Welter may best be remembered for standing up and dropping Redemptorist runningback Jonathan Green short of the goal line on fourth down to end the ‘09 semifinal game and propel the Pios to the state title the next week. The next season, John Rothermel moved from strong safety to start at middle LB for his senior season.
“John was such a smart player, a student of the game,” said Mac. “He was so prepared each week he would call out plays when opponents lined up and just freak out their offense.”
Last year, Kip Creduer continued the All-State tradition, barely edging Stelly for the team lead in tackles.
“Kipp had an unbelievable knack for finding the football,” said Coach Mac. “He was undersized but very physical. He wasn’t the fastest guy, but he played fast and just had an almost unnatural feel for the game.”
The stage now belongs to Hunter Stelly. The senior, two-year starter leads the Pios with 41 solo stops and 57 total tackles through six games. He has made four stops for losses, recorded a sack, forced two fumbles and recovered another, and made numerous big plays that don’t show up in the stats.
“I remember seeing Champ and D. J. play and that motivated me to be a physical and aggressive player like they were,” added Stelly. “They were disciplined players that took care of their responsibility. Our defense is really based on trusting that the guy next to you will handle his duties. At some point the play will come your way for the chance to make tackles, but that comes out of handling your assignment and being ready when it does.”