Citadel’s mild-mannered Jake Stenson flips switch on the field

Jake Stenson, Bulldog #24

Jake Stenson, Bulldog #24

Jeff Hartsell postandcourier.com
Posted 9/18/14 3:03 pm

But before the Bulldogs could get a substitute onto the field, the offense lined up for the next snap, running a play that required Stenson to throw the lead block. “He made a great block, then came out of the game in tremendous pain,” said Citadel coach Mike Houston. “In spite of that pain, he was going to do what the team needed him to do. That kind of toughness and competitiveness is something you can’t measure in size and stature.

Citadel fans surely know by now that Stenson’s football abilities belie his mild-mannered appearance. When he’s dressed in seersucker pants and a white button-down shirt, the 5-11, 200-pounder looks more like a typical MBA student – which he is – than the owner of the second-best rushing average in the Southern Conference. “Just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover,” Houston said.

A fifth-year senior from Jacksonville, Fla., Stenson is averaging 11 yards per carry this season in the Bulldogs’ triple-option offense, behind only Wofford’s Ray Smith (14.9 ypc) in the SoCon. Stenson is averaging 82.5 yards per game, third in SoCon rushing behind Mercer’s Alex Lakes (112.3 ypg) and Citadel teammate Tyler Renew (89 ypg). Not bad for a former walk-on who suffered a serious knee injury (torn ACL) on his first day in pads at The Citadel back in 2011 and didn’t earn a full scholarship until August 2013.

“Jake is one of those guys who is a really, really good football player who maybe doesn’t exactly fit the mold,” Houston said. “But he’s been very productive every chance he’s had this year. He can run, catch, block … I lined him up last week and he kicked a 20-yard field goal in practice, so he’s just overall a pretty good athlete.”

Stenson was just such an all-around athlete at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, which produced former Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones, among others. He played football, soccer and lacrosse, helping The Bolles School to state titles in football and soccer, and was named MVP of the state championship game in football. Despite that success, Stenson had only Division II offers for football and lacrosse, and a chance to walk-on at The Citadel, where out-of-state tuition tops $40,000 per year. After convincing his parents he could make it at The Citadel, Stenson tore his ACL on his first day in pads in 2011.

But after rehab and playing mostly on special teams in 2012, Stenson emerged as a reliable play-maker last season, catching three of the Bulldogs’ five touchdown passes in 2013. This season, he’s rushed for more yards in two games (165) than he did all last season (128). In the Bulldogs’ option offense, fullback Renew and quarterback Aaron Miller are going to get the most carries. For Stenson and his fellow slotbacks, the game is a matter of trust and opportunity where throwing a block is just as important as carrying the ball.

“There’s a lot of teamwork involved,” Stenson said. “You’ve got to trust the blocker in front of you, which for me is usually Vinny Miller or Cam Jackson or Jonathan Dorogy. You know you won’t get as many carries as the fullback and your main goal is to be the best blocker you can be. And when you do get the ball, you have to trust the guy in front of you.” The Citadel

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