By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
Two Madison Southern football players recently committed to continue their football careers as walk-ons for Division I schools.
Tight end Spencer Stone accepted a preferred walk-on offer from Wake Forest of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), while Eagles long-snapper Matt Howard accepted an offer from the University of Kentucky.
“It’s pretty exciting for these two guys to get offers from Division I programs. Both of them are outstanding young men as well as very good football players. I’m thrilled for them and their families,” Southern coach Jon Clark said.
Up until their junior years, neither player was known much outside of Madison County, but their development over the past two years and their play on the field garnered a lot of attention since then.
Stone said that until about mid-way through his junior year he hadn’t really taken football seriously, but a chat with Clark one morning changed all that.
“Coach Clark called me into his office one morning and said, ‘Spencer, do you want to play college football?’ I was just like, Me? Really? But he said he thought if I worked hard I could do it,” Stone said. “I feel like I kind of goofed-off my freshman and sophomore year. I was real skinny. I was all right but I wasn’t where I thought I could be, so after that I started working a lot harder.”
That hard work transformed the scrawny 177-pound Stone into a 236-pound physical, versatile athlete which caught the eye of a lot of schools.
Along with Wake Forest, Stone was recruited by several other schools including, Centre College, Wofford, Tulane, Western Kentucky and Ivy League schools like Brown, Harvard and Dartmouth.
But his first visit to Wake Forest, Stone said, was all it took for him to realize where he wanted to play.
“I really like the school. As soon as I walked on campus down there (Wake) I felt like I belonged. It is a college town and that’s what I was looking for. I got to talk to the coaches and I felt like it was the right place for me,” Stone said. “I wanted to see if I had it in me to play at that level.”
Stone, who has a 4.0 grade point average, said academics were very important to him and he was also impressed with the academic programs for student athletes that Wake Forest offered.
“My dad was always concerned that football would get in the way of my academics. But I think being a football player is an advantage because you get all the academic amenities and all the tutors, so that was a big part of what I liked,” Stone said. “Being a good student is all about time management. It’s not about being the smartest guy. You’ve got to have the discipline to come in from football practice and get your work done before you hand out with your friends.”
Clark, who played for Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, said he feels like the Demon Deacons are a good fit for Stone.
“I knew he would fit their system. They play at times with three tight ends. They really liked that not only does Spencer have good hands, but he’s versatile,” Clark said. “He will play what they call an H-back, kind of a fullback-tight end hybrid. They really like that he can catch, he can block and that they can put him in the backfield, and he’s smart enough to do all that.”
Stone is the son of Carla and Richard Stone of Richmond.
Like Stone, Howard, who currently is rated as the No. 28 long-snapper in the nation, was an unknown quantity until after his performance at a kicking camp in Lexington his junior year began to garner him some national exposure.
“I went to the Kohl’s Kickers National Rating System Camp in Lexington the summer before my junior year and I won it. Later that summer I got invited to their regional camp in Atlanta and I won that one also. Then I got an invitation to their elite camp held in Wisconsin and I ended up with a ranking of 28 in the nation,” Howard said.
Up until then, Howard said he had never even thought about the possibility of playing college football.
“I was just planning on going to mechanic school, but then these doors started opening up and I started thinking that maybe I could do it and it happened. I’m excited about it,” Howard said.
Howard’s performance caught the attention of coaches across the country, Clark said, and he soon was fielding calls from coaching inquiring about his long-snapper.
Howard received walk-on offers from the University of the Cumberlands, Maryland Indiana and EKU among others, but when the new UK coaches showed interest, it was a dream come true.
“Ever since we moved up here from north Georgia in 2001 I have been a big Kentucky fan. When they showed interest I told the other coaches I had to hold off and see what UK said. When they offered I took it and ran with it,” Howard said. “I love the new coaching up there. They have everything moving in the right direction. I’m excited to have a chance to be a part of that. I still can’t get over it. I never thought I would ever be able to go to Kentucky and play football. It’s a dream come true.”
Clark said Howard’s versatility was what the coaches like most about him.
“A lot of teams run the spread-punt coverage now and they all liked that Matt was a speed guy who is fast enough to cover a lot of the field after the punt,” Clark said. I think after he got to the national kicking camp he realized just how good he really was and it gave a lot of people a look at him that he never would have gotten.”
Howard is the son of Meredith and Tami Howard of Berea.
Clark said Howard and Stone are prime examples of how hard work can pay off for players.
“I can honestly say that hard work got them where they are,” Clark said. “They are probably the two hardest workers on the football team. I’m so proud of them. They really deserve this opportunity. They earned it.”