Hopewell at North Mecklenburg – Friday, Nov. 5 – 7 p.m.
by Chris Hunt
Humble Stevenson is Titans’ not-so-gentle gridiron giant
From afar, Hopewell’s mammoth defensive tackle Tevin Stevenson can best be described as a fierce competitor. At 6 foot 2 and 260 pounds, he’s a beast at the line of scrimmage, often drawing a double team from smaller offensive linemen.
On any given play, Stevenson can be seen in the trenches, pounding away on opponents with his superior strength and leverage. He naturally keeps his pad level low, which, combined with unusual quickness for his size, can be extremely intimidating to the offensive linemen assigned to block him.
Ball carriers don’t get a break, either. When Stevenson breaks through the defensive line, it appears from the bleachers that running backs and quarterbacks within his reach are swallowed up, disappearing from sight.
From afar, Stevenson appears to be a terror at the line of scrimmage. But those fortunate enough to get a closer look, or perhaps even meet Stevenson without his helmet hiding his face, will see a different side of the Titans’ standout lineman. Stevenson is just another happy-go-lucky teenager. With his size and strength, he could easily be a bully. Instead, he prefers to charm people with a big aw-shucks kind of grin.
Stevenson said most people are intimidated when they first see him, but that doesn’t last long after they meet him. His infectious personality came in handy, quickly winning over his Titans teammates after transferring from East Mecklenburg last spring, where he earned Southwestern 4A all-conference honors as a sophomore.
“He’s just goofy,” said offensive tackle Corey Copeland. “He’s always laughing at something – stupid, random stuff. He just has a great personality.”
Laughs aside, Stevenson’s play on the gridiron also helped him fit in on the Titans’ football squad. He started the season with a bang, recording a first-half safety in his season debut that sparked a 23-9 victory over West Mecklenburg on Aug. 20.
After nine games this season, Stevenson is third on the Titans with 39 tackles. Then again, he isn’t one to brag about his statistics. Hopewell coach Chris Rust, however, doesn’t have a problem singing his praises.
“He’s made a difference for us on the defensive line,” said Rust. “He does a great job stuffing the middle, and he’s got great strength and speed for his size.”
After the season opener, it didn’t take long for word of Stevenson’s talents to reach teams in the I-MECK 4A conference. These days, rival offensive coordinators make sure to put at least two blockers on Stevenson, but he doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he welcomes the double teams, knowing his linebackers will be free to make the tackle.
“I have no clue why I always see double teams, but as long as my linebacker is there, I’m good,” said Stevenson modestly. “Taking up a double team and keeping the line off my linebackers is the best thing I can do.”
While he certainly could, Stevenson doesn’t even feel the need to intimidate his opponents. Yes, he’s competitive, but he doesn’t hide a scowl behind his facemask. In fact, teammates, such as center Lyndon Johnson, said Stevenson’s always smiling, even under the Friday night lights.
“I don’t get mad during football games,” said Stevenson. “I don’t have to do all that jumping around and hollering before a game just to play football. I just like to hit and play football. It keeps me busy.”
Many would be surprised to learn that the same player who terrorizes Hopewell opponents on Friday nights also spends Sunday mornings singing for his church choir. Church is so important to Stevenson and his family that they drive an hour-and-a-half to Ebenezer A.M.E. Zion Church in Midland. It’s the church Stevenson has attended since he was a small child. While painfully shy about his talent to sing church hymns in his baritone voice, Stevenson said it keeps him at peace.
But don’t confuse Stevenson for a pushover. He isn’t exactly practicing peace and forgiveness on the football field. Just ask his opponents, or fellow Titan offensive linemen that face him head-to-head every day in practice.
“He’s generally a happy person,” said Johnson. “But he’s not a gentle giant – he’s just a giant.”
Vikings standout finally at Peace with the game
North Mecklenburg football player Jonny Peace has always seen himself as a linebacker. Most of the time, however, life – and in this case, the sport of football – doesn’t turn out the way we planned.
That was certainly the case for Peace.
Linebacker is the natural position for the 6-foot, 210-pound Peace. Before the 10th-annual Battle for the Shield game between crosstown rivals Hopewell and North Meck on Friday, Nov. 5, Peace had already made at least 50 tackles for the second consecutive season. But to classify him as just a linebacker would be like trying to pigeonhole Robert De Niro as a mere character actor.
It’s safe to say Peace has made a bigger impact this fall as a center on the Vikings’ offensive line. After losing more than 25 seniors last season, North Meck coach Mike Bradley had many positions to fill, with center being near the top of the list. Some of the candidates he looked at knew how to snap the ball but couldn’t block; others who could block, just couldn’t hike the ball with consistency.
Peace, on the other hand, seemed to have a knack for hiking and blocking during pre-season drills. So much so, Bradley was willing to take some snaps away from his returning starting linebacker to solidify the offensive line. The longer the season went on, the more Peace’s time at center increased.
Peace, true to his laid-back nature, never complained.
“I had to stay after practice and fire off 200 snaps to the quarterback,” Peace said with a laugh. “At first, they were flying over his head. It was awkward, but I made a commitment to the team.”
Truth be told, Peace wasn’t asked to do something other teammates weren’t expected to do. Former running back Jalen McCullough is now taking most of his snaps at cornerback. Former linebackers Derek Vergata and Gavin Rowles have also taken their turn rotating along the offensive line – Rowles moreso than others. North Meck’s football team is made up of many unselfish stories.
“Center proved to be a weakness for us,” said Bradley. “We had trouble finding kids who could snap and block. Given a chance, most high school kids want to play linebacker instead of center, but Jonny wants to win. He is one of many kids on this team with great character who sacrificed personal goals.”
The reason Peace (ahem) peacefully accepted his new position is what makes him stand out. He has a unique perspective on the game of football because his playing days were threatened by two completely different injuries.
Late last season, Peace suffered a dislocated shoulder. Off-season surgery repaired his injury, but an odd reaction during recovery prompted doctors to order a CT scan of Peace’s neck and head. The results indicated that Peace suffered from a condition called Chiari Malformation, which Peace explained was a piece of his brain herniating where his skull and spinal column meet.
After hearing the news, Peace wondered if he would ever play again.
Then, the unexplainable happened. After a second CT scan confirmed the original diagnosis, a third one found the condition had miraculously disappeared. The neurosurgeon had no way of explaining it, but Peace was healed.
“The doctor was surprised the piece of brain was gone,” said Peace. “He said he had never seen it happen before.”
It’s easy to see why Peace is just happy to be playing football, regardless of position. But even after the miraculous healing, he wasn’t out of the woods yet. Peace had to find a concussion-resistant helmet that was specifically fitted for his head to get his doctor’s blessing.
And then, it got worse. During a practice before North Meck’s Oct. 22 game against Vance, Peace dislocated his surgically repaired shoulder. Now, he also wears a shoulder harness that prevents him from raising his injured shoulder above his head.
“The harness looks like a bulletproof vest,” said Peace. “I had to put letters on the straps so I knew where they matched up on the vest.”
Peace has paid a heavy price for the right to play his senior season of football, but as long as he’s on the field somewhere, he’s just happy to be part of the team.
“All I could think about was playing football again,” said Peace, “so that’s why I didn’t care about (where I played).”