It was a small sample size considering his first two seasons ended abruptly with identical injuries, but Greater Spokane League football coaches didn’t need much evidence to know that Stu Stiles could play.
That’s been proven this season.
“He’s a very special player,” Ferris coach Jim Sharkey said. “You give him an inch and he’s gone.”
Stiles was poised for a big season, too, not only for himself, but for his team. He talked at length about that during a preseason interview.
Then he made a big mistake. He self-reported an athletic code violation, saying he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was remorseful that he let his team down. He had to sit out the first two games of the season.
The Wildcats got by, winning the first two games before Stiles returned for the third.
Arguably the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the league, Stiles had his best game last week in leading Mt. Spokane to a convincing win over University. He rushed for 153 yards and scored on runs of 63 and 55 yards and completed 11 of 16 passes for 188 yards and two TDs.
Mt. Spokane is 5-2 with two games left and has clinched the league’s second 3A postseason seed.
Stiles admits there were some doubts coming into the season – especially after two season-ending broken collarbones.
He has been a three-year starter in name only. He earned the job as a sophomore. Oddly, two injuries – on the same collarbone at the same point of the Wildcats’ second game the past two years – reduced Stiles’ varsity experience to 2 1/2 games going into his senior year.
After the second injury he had surgery to insert a 5-inch long titanium plate.
People close to Stiles wondered if he was making the right decision to turn out this year.
To Stiles, though, not turning out was never an option.
“The way I look at it, you can’t play scared,” Stiles said. “If I had any apprehension or was scared, I wouldn’t be playing.”
Moms, by nature, are Nervous Nellies. But Natalie Stiles was all behind her son’s comeback.
“I have a lot of faith,” she said. “If I were to say, ‘No, I don’t want you to do this,’ I would be sabotaging who he is. He’s definitely fired up. He’s going to do well. It’s going to be his glory year – hopefully, with a few wins.
“As a mother, you never want to see your son get hurt. Every time he goes down on the field I’m saying, ‘Ooh or ouch.’ He’s persevered through a bunch of stuff.”
Here’s what we know about the 6-foot, 180-pound athlete. He’s an outstanding basketball player, finishing last season as the third-leading scorer (17.7 points per game) in the GSL. The unknown heading into the football season was how well would he perform as a quarterback.
“He might be the best we’ve ever had at Mt. Spokane,” Wildcats head coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I don’t know that. I think he has the chance to be one of the best, if not the best quarterback, I’ve had to coach. He’s talented and his football IQ is very high for a player who hasn’t played much.”
Stiles seemed destined to have a spectacular football career. He led the Wildcats freshmen to an 8-1 record, the lone loss a narrow setback to district rival Mead.
His passion is basketball and he’s receiving recruiting interest. He’ll be one of the top players, if not the best in the area, this winter. Unfortunately, he’s going to be the focus of every team Mt. Spokane plays because the Wildcats graduated eight seniors.
Stiles, who carries a 3.7 grade-point average, wants to play basketball in college. But he’s open to overtures in football.
McLaughlin believes Stiles would have multiple offers to play football had he been healthy.
“Had he had two years under his belt, it’d be a different ballgame,” McLaughlin said. “As an athlete he has to showcase himself in a competitive situation.”
Stiles said the early plan called for him not to carry the ball as much as past Mt. Spokane quarterbacks. But McLaughlin said his injuries never caused him to change his strategy.
“His collarbone is fine and it’s not an issue,” McLaughlin said. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if he didn’t come out. But let’s (not) overdramatize the situation. He’s medically sound.
“The only reason he probably won’t run the ball as much is we have the ability to do more things. But he will run, because the quarterback running the football is part of our attack.”
Stiles said the second collarbone break occurred because the first injury didn’t heal properly. Compounding matters with the first injury was the fact that he came down with pneumonia and was in the hospital for 10 days while his arm was in a sling.
The doctor told him bacteria got trapped in his lung because he couldn’t clear the lungs out with every breath.
So there he was in the second game of his junior year. It was fourth-and-2 and he took off for the sideline trying to advance the ball just beyond the first-down marker.
He came up short. As he hit the turf on his left shoulder, it compressed. He heard the break. He jumped up and threw the football down in disgust. His coach and teammates thought he was mad at not getting the first down, but he was fired up because he had rebroken his collarbone.
“It was weird. The X-rays were a year and minutes apart,” Stiles said.
Stiles underwent surgery with seven screws inserted in the titanium plate. He can feel the plate near his collarbone.
“It sits on top of the bone,” he said.
After he’s done playing sports, Stiles will have the plate removed.
He’s had a comeback-player-of-the- year type of season.
He figured he was due some good fortune this year.
“What I’ve been telling people is the third time’s the charm,” Stiles said.