Getting to Know Tennessee Quarterback Nick Stephens

Little has to be said of the season to understand why Nick Stephens is being given a shot as QB this Saturday against Northern Illinois.  We all hoped - make that assumed - that Crompton would work out as the next hot QB to come through the UT system.  Unfortunately, the seemingly flaky player we've seen this year doesn't seem to be the same player that we learned to love during the pinch-hit against LSU.  Much has been written on Crompton, from cold-blooded analysis, to anger, to frustration.  Yet, we haven't really heard a whole lot on Nick Stephens, other than (a) he's a sophomore, (b) he's a Vol, and (c) he's the main contender to Crompton for the starting QB job.

Oops.  I had the wrong guy pictured.  Moving right along, nothing to see here.  [Note by hooper, 10/01/08 4:16 PM EDT ]

It's time we learned a little more about our new gametime QB:

High School History

Nick Stephens graduated from Flower Mound High School in Dallas, Texas in 2006.  However, he did not start at Flower Mound initially.  He transferred from Marcus High to Flower Mound due to a family move; however, he was rendered ineligible to play during his junior year because Marcus high would not release his eligibility.  (Gee, does that sound familiar?)  That was the only year he was not a starting player from 7th grad ethrough high school graduation.  But the lack of a junior year didn't stop him from attending football camps and keeping his skills sharp; in his senior year, he passed for 2604 yards and 24 TDs.  He was rated as a 3-star (and the 15th-best Pro-Style QB in his class) by Rivals.  Meanwhile, Scout saw him as a 4-star and the 11th-best Pro-Style in the nation.

Much of his high school eligibility issues can be heard straight from Stephens in this viddy:



With the QB controversy that has blossomed, Stephens has seen a lot of camera time recently.  In both the preceding and anteceding videos, you get a sense of his rawness in the spotlight, but you also get a sense of a well-mannered guy with a good sense of perspective.


 

College Recruiting

Unsurprising for a highly-rated QB, Stephens was recruited by several major programs.  The list included Michigan, Tennessee, Ole Miss (the Orgeron years), Colorado, Illinois, and Oklahoma State (the MAN years).  If you watched the preceding videos, you already know that Stephens initially verbally committed to Ole Miss.  However, Brent Schaeffer's departure from UT to Ole Miss encouraged Stephens to decommit and hitch his wagon to the Big Orange.  (Oh, delicious irony.  But seriously, this might end up working well for both UT and Ole Miss.  Schaeffer has been a tremendous asset for a reeling Rebel program, and Stephens might indeed be the answer at UT.  Let's not overhype it this time, though.  Yet.)  At any rate, we know that Stephens ended up in Knoxville to play QB for the good guys.

Reputation

The skinny on Stephens (mostly based on his skills at the time of high school graduation):

  • Strong Arm  Stephens earned his high rating mostly on the distance and speed of his throws.  His ability to make the long pass is unquestioned.
  • Quick Release  For anybody who doubts the importance of a quick release, let me simply say:  Jay Cutler.  Pay objective attention; if Cutler's release was any slower, this pass would have been intercepted.

2005 Vanderbilt Football - Top Plays #1 (via vucommodores)

  • Distance Accuracy  The local radio stations have been noting that Stephens can hit a long throw with very good consistency, though they felt his medium-range passes needed to be dialed in a bit.  I've always felt that it's easier to learn touch than power, so this is an overall plus for a relatively untested college QB.
  • Big Hands  The guy can really wrap his mitts around a football.  If you click here, you'll see a photo of him in a practice session during the Spring.  (I'd post it directly, but the photo is copyrighted.)
  • Decision Making The biggest reason Stephens was never seen as a threat to Crompton's job was that the game was still moving too fast for him.  As with most QBs, taking the step to the next level of competition necessitates a learning curve to deal with the suddenly faster defenses.  (E.g. any rookie NFL QB.)  Stephens openly admits this as well, and seems intent on working on his mental game speed.
  • Deceptive Speed, (or not)  Stephens ran a 4.90 40 coming out of high school, which was one of the slowest times of the top 50 QBs in his class.  Don't look for Stephens to be a scrambler.  That's not too bad though; it's not like UT is in a QB controversy over the QB's feet.  (Incidentally, Crompton also ran a 4.90 40 coming out of high school.  Let's call this a wash.)

Odds and Ends

Ranking as #11 in his recruiting class isn't any small feat.  The 2006 recruiting class according to Scout breaks down like this (ignoring JUCO transfers [cough, cough, Schaeffer, cough, cough]):

  1. Mitch Mustain - Arkansas / USC
  2. Matthew Stafford - Georgia
  3. Tim Tebow - Florida
  4. Pat Devlin - Penn State
  5. Isiah (Juice) Williams - Illinois
  6. Jevan Snead - Texas
  7. Jake Locker - Washington
  8. Alex Cate - Oklahoma State
  9. Zach Frazer - Notre Dame
  10. Neil Caudle - Auburn
  11. Nick Stephens - Tennessee
  12. Sherrod Harris - Texas
  13. Antonio Henton - Ohio State
  14. Taylor Potts - Texas Tech
  15. Josh Freeman - Kansas State
  16. James Lark - BYU
  17. Sam Bradford - Oklahoma (!!)
  18. Kevin Riley - California
  19. Justin Burke - North Carolina State
  20. Christian Ponder - Florida State

As you can see, most of the top 20 QBs of 2006 have seen significant action and many are starters.  (Trivia: Cody Hawkins (Colorado) was #21, which is a high enough ranking to suggest that his commit wasn't necessarily entirely nepotism.  FWIW.)  If you compare that list to the top 20 in 2005, you'll see that things have worked out a little better for the younger class so far.

ENTRANCE MUSIC!

Oh, come on.  You know you're just dying to build up hype and anticipation for the new kid.  It's what we Vols fans do.  Look at the hype we gave this year before the games started.  Look at how everybody felt about UT's turnaround when Cutcliffe came back.  It's in our blood.

If there's one thing you can bank on in a YouTube highlight video, it's rap music.  Every cut-rate highlight compiler is obsessed with some rap soundtrack with just enough F-bombs (i.e. more than zero) that prevent me from using them in posts.  (Except for BloodSpite, of course.)  So let's beat the punch and think up some music for him.  Just to start the thoughts, let me suggest something by this guy.

THIS KID NEEDS A 'NICK'NAME!

Hey, we've been in the business of nicknames for a while now.  If you're one to believe in jinxes, then stay away from this topic; we've had the Clawfense (more accurately, we hope to have it someday), the Mountain Cannon, the Mustang (Sally) defense, the G-Gun (more like the G-Run), and even Eric Berry (whose name is a nickname, thank you very much).  So why not find a nickname for Nick?  I propose that we reserve the obvious - St. Nick - until after we see how he does.  If he does well as the Vols QB, we can bestow St. Nick upon him.  After all, that's about all we can give him, what with NCAA regs and all that.  Besides, if Stephens does work out, you'd love to buy a Vols version of this.

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