Smith: Stine’s night won’t soon be forgotten
“I've had a lot of memories in my life. Sometimes the smaller ones get dumped to make room for the bigger ones.”
— Kenny Powers, “Eastbound & Down”
It’s been nearly four weeks since the Tonganoxie High football season came to a nondescript end.
Details of a 1-8 2010 campaign already are slipping into the recesses of the mind, where they will make strange bedfellows with other trivial details, such as the names of 1980s sitcom actors, Pearl Jam lyrics and locker combinations.
No matter how far removed this sports writer gets from the Chieftains’ unmemorable year, though, I will never forget a specific singular moment.
It came minutes after the forgettable season came to an end, just outside the THS locker room as senior Cody Stine, a behemoth offensive lineman, slowly exited with his head slumped.
Asked if he wouldn’t mind being interviewed, the gracious lineman, listed at 320 pounds on the Tonganoxie roster, quickly obliged, perked up and began relating how he turned from a guy no one could count on to the most interesting part of the Chieftains’ season finale.
It was hard to miss the massive Stine and his No. 77 jersey on the Tonganoxie sideline during his senior year. And the sideline was almost always where you would find him. Stine rarely saw playing time during the first eight games of the season. A play here. A play there. That was it.
All of that changed, however, on his Senior Night against Jeff West. Stine began the game in a peculiar position — lined up as a running back on the Chieftains’ opening play. He was the first to carry the ball in Tonganoxie’s “elephant-I” formation, which coach Mark Elston ran to reward Stine and fellow senior linemen Justin Francis and Dylan Fosdick.
That alone would have made Stine’s night a meaningful one, but the memories kept piling on as his number was called time and time again throughout his final game. After lining up on offense the first three plays, he made an appearance on the punt return unit and was a fixture on the defensive line. It gave the hefty lineman a chance to really experience the game instead of watching from afar while chatting up other players.
“It was crazy. It’s the most I’ve ever been in,” Stine said, estimating he played on eight snaps in his first eight games before becoming a big part of the game plan in his last one. “I tried really hard in practice this week so I could get in. I really wanted to play.”
And playing meant digesting a lot of information for all his responsibilities.
“It was like a giant soup,” he said. “You’ve got a bunch of ingredients in the soup. It’s crazy.”
Stine knew he would get his “elephant-I” time on the field but was a bit surprised when he got so many reps on defense, too. He said teammate Ryan Lynch helped him out with assignments and that allowed him to overcome his nerves.
It was all a bit overwhelming, because this was Stine’s first year playing football for Tonganoxie.
Strange, given his stature. Why hadn’t he played before?
“Just being lazy,” Stine said. “Oh, you guys are going to football practice. Well I’ll be playing Xbox. Have fun.”
Now armed with the knowledge of what he had missed, Stine wished he could turn back time and do it differently.
“I regret not playing all four years,” Stine said, attempting not to get emotional. “I wish I would’ve played all four. Great group of guys.”
Elston said his coaching staff tried to coax Stine into playing many times but he didn’t commit to it until his senior year.
“Had we gotten him out, he probably would’ve been a very major contributor to us this year,” Elston said, adding that the senior’s lack of experience kept that from happening until late in the season.
Finally, as THS prepared for its finale, Stine emerged at practices, showing flashes of dominance.
“It takes a while for the light bulb to come on and it came on for him here in the last couple of weeks,” Elston said.
Confidence and fitness contributed to the senior lineman’s transformation as he shed a ton of weight and reached a point where he could stay in the game and be in on more plays.
Chieftains senior quarterback Jeremy Carlisle said watching Stine become a contributor was special.
“We were all glad to see him come out in the first place this year,” Carlisle said. “We all had question marks on whether or not he would stick it through the whole year but he did and he improved a lot, whether or not he saw much of the field.”
It was especially rewarding, he added, because Stine was so popular with his teammates.
“Cody’s a great guy,” Carlisle said. “Everybody on the team likes him. Not one person dislikes Cody.”
Though Elston would have loved to have Stine in his program for four years, he admitted the senior lineman’s play was a rare highlight during a difficult year.
“You’ve got to look for some positives in a season like this and he was one of them,” the coach said.
Indeed, Stine was a rare bright spot in a mostly bleak season. Big plays and final scores that transpired this year for THS won’t have staying power in many memory banks. What will be impossible to forget, though, is the unadulterated joy Stine experienced after busting his butt and breaking into the lineup to play meaningful snaps of high school football.
His Senior Night will stay with him much longer than three years of Xbox.
“I had a lot of fun,” Stine said as a tear snuck out of his eye and streaked down his cheek. “I’ll remember this for a long time.”