The Lincoln-St. Anthony football game had reached halftime last Saturday and things weren’t going the way that Tyron Stevens would have liked.
The Lincoln standout junior running back had about 50 or so yards rushing and he knew that he could produce more than that, if given the opportunity.
So Stevens did what he could to get his team going.
“He grabbed the linemen in a corner of the locker room and told them that if they did their job blocking up front, he would get the yards,” Lincoln head coach Robert Hampton said. “He challenged the linemen. He did it on his own. I wasn’t going to stop him. He just gathered them, looked them in the eye and told them to do their job. I never saw that before. I didn’t have to say anything.”
“I just had a feeling that I could inspire them,” Stevens said of his halftime speech to his linemen. “I just thought that I needed to give them a spark, to give them a little bit of fire.”
After addressing his teammates, Stevens then approached his coach.
“He said to me, ‘Just give me the ball and I’ll show you what I can do,’ ” Hampton said. “He brings that level of intensity to this team. It doesn’t matter that he’s a junior. Tyron is the team’s emotional leader. He demands excellence in practice and in the games. He’s the kind of kid you want in your locker room. You rarely see that in a junior, but Tyron just sets the tone for everyone else.”
Stevens lived up to his promise. He ran for more than 180 yards in the second half and scored two touchdowns, leading the Lions to a 22-15 victory, improving their record to 3-0, the best start for a Lincoln football team since 1987.
Stevens ended the day with 242 yards on 22 carries and the two touchdowns. It was the largest single game rushing effort by a Lincoln running back in more than 25 years.
For his efforts, Stevens has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Hampton said that Stevens was a completely changed player after halftime.
“He ran like a man possessed,” Hampton said. “We haven’t had anyone do anything like that in a long time. He’s just a determined young man.”
Incredibly, Stevens’ performance comes after having to sit out the Lions’ previous game against Kearny due to a knee injury.
“But during that game, Tyron showed how much of a leader he is,” Hampton said. “He was on the sidelines, encouraging everyone else on, talking to the others about what they should be doing, about blocking schemes. He was very encouraging to the rest of the team, even though he wasn’t playing. I’ve never had a junior do that. He demands respect. Not only does he talk the talk, but he walks the walk.”
“I was disappointed that I couldn’t play,” Stevens said. “But once I saw how good the team was doing, I was happy. I was happy with their performance. I definitely knew I had to come back the next week, because I didn’t want to lose my ability. I just had to come back and play as hard as I could.”
Stevens said that he has been inspired to help the Lions get back to the NJSIAA state playoffs. The Lions qualified last year for the state playoffs in Group II for the first time since 1987.
“We all wanted to prove that last year was not a fluke,” Stevens said. “We wanted to prove that we have a good team and that we could do it again this year. That was the goal.”
Stevens had another goal in mind after he met Shelly Archie, a sensational running back during those Lincoln playoff days of the late 80s and father of current St. Peter’s Prep junior back Sheldon Royster.
Archie told Steve ns that he rushed for about 3,000 yards during his career and that Stevens had the ability to do the same thing.
“That’s all Tyron needed to hear,” Hampton said. “He set 3,000 yards as a goal.”
“I would love to get 3,000 yards before I leave here,” Stevens said. “When I heard that number, it’s what I wanted to do. It would be great if I could do it. I hope I can. When he [Archie] told me that I could do it, I told him, `You got it.’ I have to prove I can do it.”
Stevens started this season with about 1,300 yards during his first two seasons. A few more games like the one Stevens had Saturday and he might just eclipse that magical plateau this season.
Stevens said that he embraces the role of being the team leader, despite his underclass status.
“I think I’ve always felt like I’ve been a leader, ever since I was a freshman,” Stevens said. “I think some people can’t handle it, but I think I was born that way. People always seem to listen to me.”
“He’s very fierce, very determined and very intelligent,” Hampton said. “I know that he just needs to get those emotions going in the right direction. But he’s a tough kid, a typical Lincoln kid. He’s quick, strong and fierce. He never takes a day off and commands attention with his actions.”
Although Stevens is only a junior, Hampton knows that the running back can definitely play on the next level.
“He can go as far as he wants to go,” Hampton said. “He’s going to run track again [in the winter and spring] so he can get faster. Right now, he doesn’t have that afterburner speed that some great backs have, but he’s strong and very quick. He also has good hands and is a good receiver. But I have to love his determination.”
“Running track has made me a better football player,” said Stevens, who is also a solid student at Lincoln. “I can hit the hole faster this year and that’s all from track. I really want to play college football. I know there are others from Lincoln who have gone on to play in college [like Brandon McGowan, who went from the University of Maine to now the starting defensive backfield of the New England Patriots]. When I first found out that [McGowan] went to Lincoln, I was amazed and said right then, if he could do it, then maybe so could I.”
As long as Stevens knows how to remain focused and remain an inspirational leader, then anything is possible.
“I think the sky’s the limit,” Stevens said. “This is just the beginning. Who knows? If I keep working hard, I can get a 300-yard game.”
You have to admire the way the kid is thinking. – Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.