Tommy Stevens, to my knowledge, has not spoken with media since making a verbal commitment to Penn State’s incoming class of 2015 on Monday night. The athletic, 6-foot-3, 196-pound dual-threat quarterback from Decatur (Ind.) Central High School flipped from home-state Indiana University to PSU two days after the Nittany Lions beat the Hoosiers in Bloomington, Ind.
Stevens has not responded to text or voice messages I have left for him – and I have not seen him go on the record with anyone else, either. Which is understandable. By all indications, Stevens is a good kid. It probably wasn’t easy for him to “go back on” a commitment – especially to a home-state school. Once things settle a little, I expect him to open up publicly a little more. For now, this is his only public comment:
— Tommy Stevens3⃣ (@TS3_ERA) November 11, 2014
Anyway, so in lieu of not being able to interview Penn State’s quarterback of the future (well, one of them, at least), I tried the next-best thing: I interviewed his high school coach.
Justin Dixson was gracious enough to spend 15 minutes on the phone with me Tuesday morning. Here is the majority of that conversation…
On what kind of overall athlete Stevens is:
He’s an unbelievable just football player in general. You look at him, he’s dynamic with the ball, a physical blocker and tackler, he can throw it and he can run it, he can kick it – just an all-around unbelievable football player. He’s a coach’s kid – his dad’s been on my staff since I’ve been here. So he’s a football junkie, grown up around the game of football and has a legit passion for it and just plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.
On what kind of overall person he is:
I just think he’s a natural charismatic leader that people like to be around. Part of that is the way that he approaches practice and the way that he approached games. He does what’s in the best interest of the team, whatever it takes to win. He wants to get better everyday – and his teammates see that and his coaches see that, and I think that’s why a lot of people are drawn to him and follow him and like being around him. Obviously, he’s well-respected in our school, he’s a great leader, a great student — teachers love having him in class – just an all-around great guy. The two biggest things that I really think set Tommy apart: One, I never thought I would coach a player that loves the game of football more than I do – and he might be close. That just tells you the type of passion he has for the game. And, especially in this day and age, I think where kids can tend to be a little bit selfish and it tends to be about them and about their recruiting and about how many stars they have, I think Tommy was 100 percent opposite of that. He really wanted to minimize the recruiting process so it wasn’t a distraction for his team through this whole thing. His teammates didn’t resent the attention Tommy was getting because they know what type of guy he is. In a lot of situations guys who are as high-profile as Tommy and getting all the attention and articles and interviews and media coverage, that never went to his head and his teammates didn’t obviously resent him for that so that shows you what type of kid he is.
He’s a top-notch guy and we are going miss him.
On how often Stevens played defense (some colleges were reportedly recruiting him as a safety):
We tried to use him in what we consider ‘championship situations’ … There’s no doubt he’s our best defensive player but also being our starting quarterback and as big a part of the offense that he was we wanted to be very systematic in how we used him, and we decided we were going to play him both ways when we felt like a championship was on the line so late in the year… He played every snap on both sides of the ball (for a late-season must-win game). That also tells you what type of gritty competitor he is. And he’s doing it at a high level – it’s not like this is small-school level, he’s doing against Marian County and Indianapolis athletes.
On why he selected Penn State:
I don’t want to speak for him… I just know during in the entire recruiting process, he was very deliberate and open and honest with everybody about what was going on. I think he did his homework and research on every school that recruited him, and obviously ultimately felt best about Penn State.
On what coaches recruited him to Penn State:
Well, you know, not necessarily (any). We’ve got a 2016 offensive tackle that is being highly-recruited (Trent Maynard) that they were able to come and at least get information on. As far as I was concerned, Tommy’s recruitment was done when he committed to Indiana so the contact that they had was really outside of our program, and the talks they had with him was really outside of me and outside of our program.
On if he struggled with “de-committing’:
I think he told everybody (during the spring of 2013) that he would see what offers he had after his junior year and be able to visit and try to make the best decision possible to kind of minimize the recruiting process during his senior year and not be a distraction for his team. And that’s what he did. And that’s when he made the commitment to Indiana (in June). At that point, Penn State wasn’t an option – it became an option late in his senior year (when PSU needed a QB after Brandon Wimbush decommitted). He was able to weigh that and obviously make his decision based on how he felt and what he saw. I know Tommy and his family are high-character people. They’re the most unselfish people you will ever meet, and I think it was hard for them because he genuinely wanted his word to mean something and didn’t want to be a guy who de-committed. But at the end of the day, I also think he felt he had to do what was best for him in this situation – which ended up really, really opposite of his personality because he wants to do what’s best for everybody and what’s best for the team. So it’s kind of against his personality to be honest with you, so I think that was a little bit tough for him. But I don’t want to speak for him.
On the offense Stevens ran at Decatur Central:
A multiple option spread offense. We run some under-center option and some ‘gun option and some run/pass option stuff, so there’s no doubt we’ve always put an emphasis on having a guy who can beat you with his arm and beat you with feet; it just so happens that Tommy is at an elite level at doing that. So obviously any time you get a guy like that in an offense like a lot of people are running, it’s extremely hard to defend, and that’s why we were so able to be successful on offense the past two years.
On if Dixson was familiar at all with what PSU offensive coordinator John Donovan ran at Vanderbilt, and if that was similar to what Dixson had Stevens run:
Without really breaking down the schematics of it, I would say if it’s an offense that asks the quarterback to make decisions based on what the defense is giving them, and has run/pass options and different types of read-options within the run game, I would say, yes, that’s what we do and that’s what he’s good at.
On what other schools Stevens was interested in:
I think coming down to June he really liked Nebraska, really liked Michigan State and obviously really liked Indiana. Those were the schools I felt like were at the top of his list, and he ultimately made the decision to pick Indiana until the Penn State option came in late in his senior year.
(Photo: Tommy Stevens, second from left, during his official visit to Penn State on Oct. 25 for the Ohio State game. Baldwin HS offensive tackle and PSU recruit Sterling Jenkins, left, spent plenty of time with Stevens that day while on an official visit of his own. Lions coach James Franklin and four-star uncommitted offensive guard Matthew Burrell are also in the “selfie” — Courtesy of Sterling Jenkins)