By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Imagine being a high school defensive back playing against Washington Township High this past fall, and the Minutemen run a play that calls for left guard John Stone to pull around and put a kick-out block on you. He’s roughly the same size as Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce (6-foot-3, 290 pounds).
You’d be in for a rough day.
And you wouldn’t be alone.
There are dozens of defensive players throughout South Jersey who are happy they’ll no longer have to square up against one of the biggest and best offensive linemen in the state of New Jersey in 2023. By next fall, Stone hopes to be making a big impact at Rutgers University, giving South Jersey defensive backs a collective sigh of relief.
“He’s a big fella, that’s for sure. He’s a great kid. As big as he is, he’s a very good kid — respectful, coachable, all the things you look for in a really good football player. Him having the opportunity to head to Rutgers and be a part of his staff with coach (Greg) Schiano and what he’s trying to rebuild there, that’s a huge bonus for him. He’s extremely impressive,” said Township coach Mike Schatzman. “For as big as he is, he’s extremely athletic. This past year he got on the wrestling mat, placed in districts and regions and got a chance to be in the state tournament as a first-year wrestler. He hadn’t wrestled since he was in fifth grade.”
Stone was as impressive this season as he had been his entire high school career. The Minutemen went just 5-5, but they played a very tough schedule and despite the .500 record they had one of the more dominant running games in South Jersey. The Minutemen put up more than 2,000 rushing yards as a team and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. A big reason for that was Stone plowing people over in the middle of the field.
“Obviously he’s a big kid, but when he gets to the next level there will be guys who are bigger. I think what separates him is his athleticism. If you watch a guy like Jason Kelce, he’s not overly big — John is probably bigger than Kelce — but his speed and athleticism, being out in space and doing things that aren’t necessarily normal for a high school lineman to do, that’s probably what stands out the most,” Schatzman said. “We probably take it for granted because we’ve been seeing it, but seeing him get out on a linebacker and pancaking him, that’s probably what stands out the most. His nastiness and that ability to turn that on, to go from being a really respectful kid off the field to being nasty on the field; having him out there is a sense of security for our guys. He’s a very confident kid, very sure of himself and that’s only grown over time. He asks all the right questions, helps guys out, he’s a good teammate. Yes, he’s our star player, but the guys feel comfortable around him and can joke around. He just has that type of personality.”
Stone said he always played a physical brand of football, but his mentality changed going into his junior year. Prior to that season, two of his grandparents died. He felt a lot of pain, and naturally he channeled that into football aggression. But while something like that might have eaten away at another high school player, Stone found a way to take the pain he was feeling, dish it out on the field but then leave it behind once the Friday night lights dimmed. That ability to, as he calls it, “flip the switch” when it came time to play on Friday nights turned him from a good player to a great one. He was able to channel the emotions and aggression he was feeling while still being able to stay focused on the task at hand and the fundamentals he had been taught since his youth football days.
That made for a scary combination for opposing defenses when No. 71 was coming at them.
“That switch just flips. I put the headphones on, get in the locker room and it goes from nice, even-keeled John Stone to a maniac. I go crazy,” he said. “Going into my junior year I lost my grandmother and grandfather, and losing them made me put my head down and work extra hard. That season was when I really flipped that switch. You have to have an ‘Off’ and ‘On’. When you come out of football you can’t be all aggressive, but once that uniform goes on, nothing else matters except running people over.
“It was difficult to go through at first, but I just used that pain and hurt and tried to inflict it out on the football field. It was nothing personal (against opponents), it was just all business.”
That “all business” mentality has helped guys like Stone — and players such as Jaden Allen and Jo’Nathan Silver before him — completely change the culture and expectations around Washington Township football. When Schatzman first took over, the team was struggling to win a game or two. Now, if the Minutemen don’t make the state playoffs the season is a disappointment.
“All those things you look for in a player, he’s definitely that. And I think that’s a testament to all the players who have come before him, the Silvers and Jaden Allens of the world who have kind of molded what it’s supposed to look like to be a star player; the leadership, all those things. John works his tail off. He’s a blue-collar type of kid,” Schatzman said. “Even coming off an all-South Jersey year last year, he’s really committed himself to getting better. His body, his frame, he’s invested in the weight room. We knew (four years ago) he was going to be a good player, but he’s turned himself into a great player. He has a chance to be a big-time player in the Big 10 with Rutgers, and maybe even eventually beyond that. He loves football and he’s going to do all the right things.”
Stone, believe it or not, played on the freshman team as a rookie in high school. He was only about 5-foot-9 and maybe 200 pounds back then. But heading into his sophomore year he was intent on making a big impact on the varsity level. He’s done that, leading the team to 13 wins the past three years, including two state playoff berths.
“I came in as a freshman at about 5-foot-9 and maybe 200 pounds. My dad is pretty tall and my mom is about 5-foot-8, so I knew the growth spurt was coming, I just didn’t know when. So that freshman year I was a little bit undersized, but sophomore year I ended up earning a starting spot at left tackle. By then I was about 6-1, 230. Going into junior year I put on another 30 pounds, and this past season I was playing at 6-3, 285. It’s pretty cool to compare and contrast the pictures of me from when I was a freshman. It’s crazy. I look like a whole different person,” he said. “I’m a smart offensive lineman and I like to think I’m good at the game mentally and not just physically. Offensive line requires a lot more mental stuff than defensive line. On the defensive line you’re just reading and reacting.
“I just got to work that offseason after my freshman year. Coach Schatz has most of the freshman play freshman ball so you can get used to the whole practice aspect and getting into high school. You’re with all your friends that year. Once you get to varsity it’s a mix of all grades. Freshman year was a lot of fun being with the guys I had been with all through youth football, but after that the fun was over. I had to put my head down and work because I was trying to earn a varsity position by sophomore year,” Stone said. “The biggest challenge was the experience and the knowledge that the guys had on me. They were a little bit smarter, but I had a guy next to me in Danny Guetens and he was also a first-year starter that year. We started clicking, and once me and him started working together everything came a lot easier.”
Soon, Stone will be headed off to Rutgers as an early enrollee in time to start working out with the team in the spring. He’s eager to start his college career and who knows, maybe someday he’ll be just like Kelce, playing on Sundays in the NFL. He certainly has the size and athleticism, now it’s a question of how much better can he get at Rutgers?
“Rutgers is home. It’s an hour away and the coaching staff is amazing. Coach Schiano is a dude. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t want to play for him. And the offensive line coaches, they are crazy and I love it. I have that type of crazy mentality and I love running people over, and they preach that all the time. It’s a perfect fit for me. My family won’t have to fly out to see games, and that was a big thing for me,” Stone said. “I hope to be in the NFL. That would change the lives of a lot of people around me, and mine, too, of course. I have to improve on my footwork and I know I have to get bigger, stronger and faster. Those are things I work on constantly. My dad preaches that to me all the time — bigger, stronger, faster. The biggest thing is speed in football. From freshman to varsity the speed is totally different, and once I get to college that speed will be on another level. So I just have to go in there with my head down and work, and try to pick things up as quickly as possible in the spring. I think it’s a realistic dream if I just keep my head down and work.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
Vic’s Subs Cover Story: Washington Township lineman John Stone’s mantra is to keep getting bigger, stronger and faster
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN