Punishing presence

Rock Bridge’s John Stull missed all of last season with a freak injury. Now, he’s back, and he’s better – and bigger – than ever.
Friday, September 23, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:11 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

At a recent Rock Bridge football practice, coach A.J. Ofodile looked around for one of his team’s toughest players.

“Stull get over here, I need a terminator,” Ofodile said.

That terminator is John Stull, the Bruins’ 6-foot-4, 245-pound monster. With huge, chiseled arms and legs the width of telephone poles, it is not hard for the senior tight end/defensive end to get noticed.

“I haven’t seen very many kids at the high school level that look like him,” Ofodile said.

Although his physical stature stands out, getting noticed on the football field is something new for Stull this season. That’s because being on a football field is something Stull didn’t experience last season. In preseason practice last year, Stull separated his shoulder, broke his humerus and separated a couple of ribs in what he called a “freak accident.” The injury also left Stull with some nerve damage that sidelined him for his entire junior season.

“I think it was very frustrating for him because he would have been a starter for us a year ago,” Ofodile said. “He’s somebody we needed to have out there a lot a year ago. So it was frustrating going through the process, but he handled it the right way.”

Instead of complaining or giving up his hopes of playing college football, Stull did something different.

“I really took it like it was the biggest motivation I’ve ever had in my life,” Stull said. “I would come to the games and watch all my friends play, no matter how much it was like, ‘Oh man, this is so hard.’ It was a lot of fun. Seeing them, I really started to get in the weight room put on the pounds and worked really hard because it really put into perspective what I wanted to do.”

Stull’s hard work in the weight room has paid off this season, and he leads a revamped Bruins defense with his physical presence. In practice, he can be seen running over defenders as a tight end or on defense, pushing offensive linemen out of the way like they are helpless.

Linemen whisper on the sidelines, “I can’t block Stull.” Another says, “I wonder why.”

Even assistant coach Greg Hough, who sometimes plays offensive line in practice, is reluctant.

“Uh, it’s all right,” he said. “But no one else wants to do it.”

Ofodile said Stull’s return has been key for his improved defense this season.

“He’s been huge for us,” Ofodile said. “He’s a physical presence on both sides of the ball. He’s a great kid as far as attitude and work ethic and what he brings to the table. He’s committed to doing things the right way and that makes him a leader, so we’re really excited to have him back.”

Although he missed his junior season, Stull said he doesn’t think he would have progressed as far if it wasn’t for his injury. He said he is starting to see the rewards of his hard work before the season began.

“It really showed me how much hard work and dedication pays off,” Stull said.

Colleges are starting to take notice as well. Despite only three games of varsity experience, Stull has received multiple offers from Division I-AA schools and is starting to hear more from Division I-A schools such as Iowa and Missouri. He said he has been to a Missouri game as a recruit and, after seeing him play at their camp, he is confident they will offer him a scholarship soon. Stull said he hopes after Missouri offers, many more schools will soon follow. Ofodile said with a big kid like Stull, colleges want to know “where’s his motor at?”

It hasn’t been an issue.

“He’s an intense kid that goes 1,000 mph all the time, so they love to see that,” Ofodile said.

Ofodile said physically, Stull reminds him of former Tiger star and current NFL defensive end, Justin Smith. He even said Stull’s size now is similar to what Smith was as a college freshman. However, he sees them as different types of players.

“Justin was an edge guy, a speed player,” Ofodile said. “John is really physical, a point-of-attack kind of guy. I also think with Justin being 245 pounds when he got to college, I see John being, at the end of a redshirt year, being 275, 280 pounds which is going to give him the kind of versatility you need to play inside or outside.”

In addition to growing physically this season, Stull has also grown as a leader for the Bruins. Early in the season, Stull said he didn’t feel like it was his position to lead the team, but after the team’s first loss last week against Liberty, Stull said the reaction of the team really “ate at him.”

“Nobody reacted the way they should have and took it all too well,” Stull said. “I really feel responsible after the first loss that I really need to help the team get going.”

Ofodile said Stull’s biggest attribute is his tremendous desire. Stull said he has learned from watching others in similar positions and has learned from their mistakes.

“I’ve seen guys who had natural ability and I’ve seen guys with strength and power and I’ve seen what’s happened to them,” Stull said. “They don’t try hard. They think everything is going to be given to them and they don’t reach their goals. Nothing is given to you in life. I know I’m not going to reach my goals unless I try my absolute hardest every play.”

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