Having Daniel Stegall on the football field is nothing new to Greenwood High School coach Rick Jones. Having him there in the summer of 2009 is a different story.
Stegall – a former standout quarterback for the Bulldogs – spent four seasons in the New York Mets' minor league system before being released by the team earlier this summer. He has recently returned to his hometown committed to make a return to the gridiron.
"He's a great player and I loved coaching him," said Jones, who is entering his sixth season in the small west Arkansas town. "We had him for about two-and-a-quarter years and he's a lot of fun to be around. He's such a great person and it's good to have him around again.
"I don't think people have an appreciation for the life of a minor leaguer in terms of everything is going backward with the peer group. Their peers are going to college and they're going to play baseball. Then when they're finished with baseball the peers are going to college. It's sort of a weird life.
"He's just getting back and I was impressed the first thing he did was to look up our weight coach and say, ‘Hey, I need to get stronger.' He's looking into what he needs to do in football to get his arm back in shape. He hasn't thrown many footballs the last three years. I think it's just a matter of getting a feel for it and getting the ball in his hand again. He went from throwing thousands of balls a year to throwing zero."
Zero footballs, that is. Stegall has bounced around the Mets organization as an outfielder and part-time pitcher since being selected by the team in the summer of 2006.
"I love baseball and wish it would've lasted longer," Stegall said. "Any time someone is put out on their own they have to grow up quick. I think the best way is to get out there and travel out there. My parents were great and I knew they were there if I needed them, but it was one of those life experiences. You live and you learn."
On the football field, Stegall led the Bulldogs to their first of three consecutive state championships as a senior in 2005 and became the first player to ever sign a Division-I letter of intent from the school when he inked his intentions to play for the Miami Hurricanes in the spring of 2006.
Now as several high school classmates are entering their senior year of college, he is reliving the recruiting trail with a better sense of perspective.
"Hopefully I'm more mature; I feel like I am," Stegall said. "I'm looking for different things. I'm not so much worried about, ‘Is this the team I want to be a part of?' I want an education. I want to start my normal life but I also want to go to a football team I can play a little."
Of course Stegall isn't the only Greenwood High graduate to excel on the football field. His decision to sign with Miami paved the way for future players at the school, a list that includes current Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson and wide receiver Lucas Miller – a favorite target of Stegall's that walked on for the Razorbacks before earning a scholarship in 2008.
Being a recruit again, Jones said Stegall has had doors opened for him because of those younger players.
"We're just really proud of what those guys have done," said Jones, who has compiled a staggering 57-12 record at the school. "Lucas did it the hard way and walked on. He's just an extremely motivated and tough kid. Tyler is going to battle every day for that job and is going to battle when he gets on the field.
"This town is just really proud of our boys and Daniel is one of those guys, too. We take a lot of pride in that. He's the first D-1 signee in the history of the school. It's been a lot of fun and now we think we have a couple of guys this year that have a chance."
Stegall said he has spoken with Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State and Ohio University about their quarterback situation. Asked if he would talk with Miami, Stegall said it was, "part of the past."
While staying close to home would be nice, he said he is more concerned about finding a place he can receive a good education.
"I'm going to get an education and earn a degree," said Stegall, who would likely enroll in the spring of 2010. "But I'd also like to be somewhere I can compete and play because I'll be a 23-year-old freshman. I want to go in somewhere I can compete for the starting job.
"The coaches at Arkansas have asked me what I want to do school-wise, what I want my degree to be in and some academic questions. They've told me to keep in touch. They have two good quarterbacks at Arkansas right now, but anywhere I go is going to be tough because that's a position every school focuses on."
In his two years as starter for Greenwood, Stegall passed for 4,612 yards and 46 touchdowns, and threw only 13 interceptions.
He was equally as impressive rushing the ball for 2,497 yards and 51 touchdowns. The Bulldogs compiled a 24-4 record over that time.
Great as those numbers are, Jones said his age might be his most important stat of all.
"You get an almost-grown man out of him," Jones said. "You're not getting an 18-year-old; not that there's anything wrong with an 18-year-old, but it's different.
"He has a great ability to adapt to his environment. If he would have gone to Miami I think he would have been great. He loved Miami and it was a tough decision for him. For a lot of guys in Greenwood, Arkansas, you think Miami wouldn't be a good fit because it's such a long way from home. He's one of those guys that could fit in wherever he goes."
Stegall gets second chance
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