The American novelist Thomas Wolfe once said that you can’t go home again.
But sprawled out on the couch in his dad’s head coach office at Middle Tennessee State, Brent Stockstill looked precisely that: at home.
The one-time Cincinnati commit's journey back to Murfreesboro is not an unusual one—players change their minds about schools all the time. But what makes the story of the Stockstill men unique is that they were clearly destined to stand on the same sideline, no matter how hard they tried to fight it.
“I had buddies telling me through the whole process that I was making a mistake not coaching my own son—guys that had coached their sons in college,” said Rick Stockstill. “I guess what bothered me, and I don’t know if I’ve ever told him, was I never really saw him fired up after he committed to Cincinnati. He went up there the first week of January, committed and bought a hat and all that, but he never wore it until signing day.”
Granted, Brent was suffering from an ACL tear sustained during the playoffs his senior year, so getting excited about football at that time in his life was difficult. But, injury aside, there was something else missing from Brent’s future.
“A couple of months down the road, I think it was after a baseball game, we just had one of those father-son talks," recalled Brent. "We just kind of clicked and I brought it up and I said ‘I want to play for you.'"
The elder Stockstill tried to talk him out of it at first.
“So the baseball game was a district or regional tournament, we were talking and I said ‘this is a coach speaking, not your dad—you are going to do good, you’ve got everything a coach wants to coach, the toughness, the leadership, the competitiveness, all the intangibles,'” explained Rick. “You are going to have a good career at Cincinnati.’ That’s when he said ‘Dad, all I really want to do is play for you.’”
So Rick made a call to an old friend.
“At that time I called Tubbs (Tommy Tuberville) because he had to release Brent because he had already signed his National Letter of Intent and scholarship and all that,” said Rick. “Tubbs was reluctant at first – he said ‘I don’t know, Stock.’”
Tuberville told Rick he needed a day to think about it.
He later called Rick and said, “I’m going to release him…I hope you would do the same thing if it was my son” to which Rick responded, “Absolutely.”
Those exchanges with Brent and Tuberville brought Coach Stockstill back to another conversation with a much younger version of his son.
“When he was little, and I was at Clemson, we talked about ‘you’re going to be my quarterback’ even then. And I said ‘what if I’m the head coach at Presbyterian College and you can go to Texas?' He said ‘I’m going to Presbyterian,’” remembered Rick. “‘What if I’m the head coach at a real small school in North Carolina and you can go to Alabama?’ He said ‘I’m going to Elon.’ We went through all these scenarios when he was a little guy.”
So was it fate or just divine intervention from the college football gods?
“The universe has a way of aligning the stars, and if you are paying attention you'll be guided to what's right and good,” affirmed Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. “I think Brent was smart enough to realize it. In the end, I think his father is his best friend and no other coach could have measured up to his dad, and he wanted to enjoy the experience with him.”
That experience has been a series of ups and downs including a gray-shirt year, a redshirt freshman year that saw Brent fall just 53 yards shy of breaking Jameis Winston’s NCAA freshman passing record (4,057 yards), a broken collarbone his redshirt sophomore season, and surgery on his shoulder this past offseason as well as a myriad of national accolades and conference honors.
Integrating a coach's son into a team dynamic can be tricky but as a seasoned coach, the elder Stockstill took that part in stride.
“I mean I was nervous that it would be awkward at first but he (Rick) makes it really easy on me because he treats everybody like his son," said Brent. "He loves everybody and cares for them like they are me. So when I got here, he didn’t have to treat me any different or prove any points.”
This season, Brent’s fifth with the team and fourth on the field, looks to be the Blue Raiders' best. Improving on the 12th-best offensive output in the nation last year shouldn’t be too difficult, especially with Brent’s top target, Richie James, returning.
But 2017 won’t be without its challenges for MTSU—the Blue Raiders need to replace running back I'Tavius Mathers, who became the first player in FBS history to reach 1,500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and 60 catches in a single season last year. They also need to replace three-fifths of their offensive line.
They happen to have what looks like the hardest schedule in Conference USA as well: The Blue Raiders play Vanderbilt in Week 1—the first time Middle Tennessee has opened the season against a Power Five team since 2011. Then they play two more Power Five teams on the road, Syracuse and Minnesota, making them the only C-USA team to face three Power Five schools in 2017.
Despite those obstacles, MTSU remains optimistic about the upcoming season and a lot of that optimism stems from the younger Stockstill.
“Brent is one of, if not the best, leaders I’ve ever coached,” proclaimed Franklin, who also coached 2016 first overall pick Jared Goff at Cal. “He will have one of the best years in college football history. He’s special, and he has a group of special teammates.”
As for the father-son experience, Rick could not have imagined it any other way.
“I was thinking about it the other day; I don’t know if I could have handled it if he had gone to Cincinnati, handled him going away now that I’ve experienced this,” said Rick. “It’s everything that I hoped it would have been, and it’s everything that some of my buddies who have coached their sons said it would be. It was like in the beginning when he wasn’t playing, just passing each other in the hall—just to see him makes my day.”
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.