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Stevens ready for next challenge awaiting him at Newberry

Posted: March 9, 2013 10:29 a.m.
Updated: March 8, 2013 10:26 a.m.

Watching films of his team’s games from the previous Friday night last fall, North Central head football coach Louis Clyburn was heard to say --- on more than one occasion --- that some college had to give Dennis Stevens a chance.
“He can play some place, somewhere,” Clyburn said of his three-year starting offensive guard’s college prospects. “We have to find a school for him.”
Standing at or about 6-foot-2 and weighing a shade less than 250 pounds, Stevens did not have the size to play at the Division I level. But his intangibles were off the chart. When you combine those, along with his highlight film and having 80 pancake blocks as a senior for the Knights, Dennis Stevens became an easier sell to college coaches.
By mid-winter, three South Atlantic Conference programs --- Brevard, Newberry and Tusculum --- had become involved in the chase for Stevens. Last Friday afternoon, Stevens ended his recruitment by signing a national letter-of-intent with Newberry College in a ceremony held inside the North Central gymnasium.
Moments after his signing the affable Stevens talked about what this day meant to him. He said Friday was a long time in coming.
“I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I was eight or nine years old,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to play college football. Of course, it’s not a big school, but I fit in perfectly at Newberry.”
Of his final three choices, Newberry was the school which Stevens visited last and was one which he was most anxious to visit. “Tusculum was a little too far away and, I liked Brevard,” he said. “Then, my coach said something to me about Newberry. And I was like, ‘Hey. I want to check it out.’”
In choosing to continue his academic and athletic pursuits at Newberry, Stevens said he did not let other people’s opinions influence him. The two-time Chronicle-Independent Coaches All-Area Football Team honoree was going to make up his own mind of what school was the best fit for him and his needs as a student-athlete and as a person.
“A bunch of my friends went there and they didn’t like it,” he said of visiting Newberry College. “But it’s all about where you want to go and where you feel comfortable. I felt at home at Newberry. It’s here in South Carolina … it’s great.”
The move from high school football to the college game is an ambitious one for any young athlete to make. Stevens’ journey will have a bit of a curveball thrown in as he will not only be changing schools, but switching positions.
Having played at guard and center in his North Central career, Stevens made himself an even more desirable college prospect when he started working out as a deep snapper following the Knights’ 5-6 campaign of 2012. While he never snapped for punts and kicks in high school, Stevens said he had experience at that position growing up.
“My dad actually showed me and Coach (Guy) Eckenroth has helped me to perfect it,’ Stevens said of the position. “When I was little, my dad showed me how he did it and over time, I got to perfect it in my own way.
“When I first started deep snapping, my thighs were hurting; you have to get used to it. Over time, it developed perfectly. After a while, it became comfortable for me.”
Clyburn, an offensive tackle and deep snapper while playing at Camden High School in the late 1980s, said being able to snap made Stevens more valuable to college coaches. And with Newberry’s deep snapper entering his senior season, the door could be open for Stevens to see some playing time fairly early in his career with the Wolves.
When Stevens went on his visit to Newberry, Clyburn said, he opened the eyes of head coach Todd Knight and assistant coach Steven Flynn, who was in charge of the recruitment of Stevens, his with versatility.
“Coach Knight and Coach Flynn said that, early on, Dennis is going to be undersized to play center or guard,” Clyburn said. “But if can get to the 265, 270 even 280 (pounds), he is going to be able to compete at either guard or center at Newberry. That’s their plan.
“They have seen him long snap and the long snapper they have is a senior. They will be looking to him to fill that position and, even, as a backup role. It’s something he’s worked on. At that position, you’re still an offensive lineman. Dennis will still do everything the offensive linemen do, but he will still go and be with the specialists during practice. But early on, he will be working on that long snapping.”
Working to get where he wants to be is hardly foreign territory for Stevens who has never been someone who is hard to find at North Central.
As he talked about Stevens, Clyburn used phrases such as “being dependable”, “a leader” and an example for other Knights to follow, especially the younger players in the football program.
“Dennis is a great kid who’s done everything right ever since he’s been here. He hasn’t missed a practice or, a weight workout,” said the NC boss who will enter his fifth season in Boonetown in 2013.
“He has set a good example for the younger kids. They see Dennis in the weight room all the time and they see him in practice every day doing the right things and putting in the extra work after practice. Doing all those things, ultimately, has allowed him to have this opportunity that he’s received.
“Now, we can use Dennis as an example for the younger guys and say, ‘If you would like an opportunity to play college football, this is what you have to do.’”
With a new position to learn and perfect, Stevens still works out after school to perfect his long-snapping technique as well as hitting the weight room.
“I went up there (to Newberry) as a deep snapper and the coach at Newberry told my coach that they wanted me to be a center, as well as a deep snapper, over the next couple of years,” Stevens said.
“I practice anywhere from every other day to every day. It can be a quick 30-minute drill or, up to three hours a day.”
What Clyburn said impressed him as much as anything else which Stevens provided was that he brought an unmatched desire to the playing and practice field each time the offensive lineman laced up the cleats. Even more impressive is that Stevens was relentless in his play and would not allow his teammates to give up or, take a play off.
“His intensity is just so hard to match,” Clyburn said of the All-Region 3-AA selection in 2012. “It’s at practice every day. It’s in the games.
“Our other players would feed off it and it just helped us tremendously in games, especially like in the Columbia game last year where it came down to the fourth quarter. That was a new identity for this football team. That was something we’ve been trying to coach and teach for three years and, it’s really, really hard. The best way to get that through to your entire team is for the older players to have that intensity, which the other players feed off of and, try to match.
“Ultimately, that’s what happened to us last year. A large part of our success in that game and our season was because of Dennis.”
Now, the Knights will be left without a player who was a leader not to mention one of its more colorful personalities. As he prepares for college life, Stevens said he is worried about leaving his friends and family and meeting people from all walks of life.
“The biggest challenge for me will be going there and meeting new people,” Stevens said of the adjustment to college life. “Other than that, everything will probably go pretty smooth.”
Hearing that, Clyburn just shook his head and smiled. He expects Stevens to make a seamless transition into college life at Newberry and, beyond, following his graduation.
“Dennis does a good job of being a good citizen in the school. He handles himself well in any type of environment,” Clyburn said. “We’ve taken these kids to different colleges throughout his four years here, summer camps and things like that, and he just handles himself very well in any type of setting.”
As for his long-range goals, Stevens said he would love to return to North Central and become a football coach and teacher after graduating from Newberry. On this day, though, his main focus was something which had nothing to do with football or college. This was all about Dennis Stevens, who admitted to being nervous in the day and hours leading up to that afternoon’s signing ceremony.
“This is a big relief,” he said as he gave a rather large exhale and was finally able to relax after having completed and signed all his paperwork with Newberry.
“There was a lot of stress leading up to this day. Now, I’m ready to go home and eat.”

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