Jamal Cooper, a senior who played football as as sophomore and was close to many of the players even though he wasn't out on the gridiron this season, collapsed in the gym and died Friday morning.
"It's been a really rough week," North Little Rock Coach Bryan Hutson said. "He was close to a lot of these guys and we excused them for the game and would have understood if they didn't play. I was not even sure how many we would have show up, but they did and they gave it their all."
Stumon and his teammates certainly had Cooper on their minds when they took the field later that day in a place that has been historically hard for them to come away with a victory, but where they left with a 21-15 win on this particular night.
"It's hard to come to Conway and win anyway," Stumon said. "Not to mention the fact that we were dealing with that, which is so tragic. But our team just had to come together and handle our own responsibilities. We did and it was a very satisfying win for so many reasons."
Stumon (6-3, 230, 4.7) -- a key recruit Arkansas would love to have and one that UA assistant Danny Nutt was on hand to watch Friday night -- is projected as a linebacker in college and played there last season, but is playing defensive end and tailback for the Charging Wildcats this season.
He had 10 tackles, one sack, five quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery and rushed 20 times for 87 yards in his team's win as North Little Rock (5-1, 3-0) continued the school's football revival.
That included rushing 15 times for 83 yards on his team's final three time-consuming series as Huston put the game in the hands of his star, who said Friday night that Arkansas was still his leader.
It clearly showed -- as if there was any doubt -- that he was a man playing among boys.
"They knew he was getting the ball and when you can get positive yardage and they know you are going to get it, that's even better," Hutson said. "We weren't going to try and do anything stupid. We were going to give it to him and he wanted it."
All of Stumon's teammates were certainly happy about that and it was just another example of the leader he has been this season.
"He has handled it great," Hutson said. "We have asked so much of Van. If Van could just play one side of the ball there is no telling how good he could be. But he is the consummate team player and he can't. He just said he wants to do as much as he needs to in order to help the team.
"That is all he is worried about," Huston added. "He isn't worried about his stats, worried about his tackles, he's not worried if they want to run away from him or double team him, he just wants to win high school football games for North Little Rock."
Stumon, who took in Arkansas' 44-15 win over Louisiana-Monroe Saturday night and has plans to attend either this weekend's game with Auburn in Fayetteville or the Nov. 2 one with South Carolina. has offers from the Razorbacks, Purdue and Arkansas State with numerous other teams showing interest.
"Everything is the same," Stumon said. "Arkansas is still at the top of my list."
Stumon -- who took over the role as the state's most publicized non-commited recruit when Mitch Mustain pledged to be a Razorback back in August -- took it all in stride.
"It has really put a lot of pressure on me and I have got to deal with it," Stumon said. "I can't do anything but deal with it. So I just go about taking care of my business no matter who is watching or coming after me. You can't do anything but keep doing it. I can't be conceited. I just have to keep playing hard."
Ironically Stumon -- who has had a very good season while averaging over 10 tackles per game and who took a fumble recovery back 83 yards for a touchdown earlier this season -- has his biggest critic in his own house.
"My dad has been getting on me all year," Stumon said. "He's been saying 'son, you haven't had a breakout game all year, you have got to step up when you are the next best prospect in the state. To me, you ain't been doing nothing. I had to step up and show my dad I can play."
On one pass play Friday night, Stumon bull rushed from his defensive end spot, knocked both the fullback and tight end back and to the ground at the same time and and promptly planted the quarterback into the ground.
"Van really worked hard this summer," Hutson said. "He worked in the weight room and he worked at speed camp and worked on his technique. He is a very coachable young man. You never here him mouth back and you never here him think he knows more than the coaches - even though he might. He just does what we ask him to do."
Hutson said it is an absolute treat to have a star with the right attitude.
"His college days are ahead of him," Hutson said. "He told me 'Coach, I am one of the few that is going to actually play at the next level and a lot of these guys aren't so I am not looking past that and want to win for them as much as anything.'"
North Little Rock and Little Rock Catholic -- whose only loss this season is to Fayetteville -- will meet this Friday in a game matching unblemished league marks and in which the winner will take over the top spot in the AAAAA-Central.
"We have one loss and it is a loss that we shouldn't have had," Stumon said. "But now we are out here trying to come together and we have to go one step at a time. The loss we had, we probably looked over the team and now we are taking it one step at a time."
DUDLEY E. DAWSON IS A STAFF WRITER FOR HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH TUESDAY. E-MAIL: DEDSPORTS@AOL.COM
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