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Prep Football: Friday Legend Jason Stanley

By Mike London

mike.london@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — Carson assistant coach Jason Stanley has tales to tell — like being on the field in Florida’s “Swamp,” competing against players such as Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.
Stanley got to suit up against Florida in November, 2006, when he was a Western Carolina Catamount. Western lost, 62-0, to the eventual national champs.
“We all knew we were down there just as a tuneup for their national championship game,” Stanley said. “When we we having our walk-through practice, guys were getting their pictures made in front of the Swamp signs, but it was a great experience. The week before we went to Florida, we lost to an Appalachian State team that won the national championship for their division. Not many people can say they lost to national champs back-to-back.”
It started for Stanley as a South Rowan Raider. As a junior in 2002, he played tight end on offense and “Raider,” a combination safety/outside linebacker, on defense.
When South head coach Rick Vanhoy switched to a triple-option offense prior to the 2003 season, the Raiders no longer employed a tight end, so Stanley became a feisty lineman. He spent his senior year as an offensive tackle and defensive end. He was all-county on defense.
“We still had one play for a tight end that year and we practiced it,” Stanley said. “When we went on the road, I always had my No. 81 jersey in the bag, just in case — but we never ran it.”
While the 2003 Raiders weren’t great, they were good (7-6), and they achieved monumental overtime victories that remain proud landmarks in Stanley’s life.
First there was the 37-36, overtime win against A.L. Brown.
“We just took it to them early and we were up 16-0,” Stanley said.
South led, 30-13, when the Wonders made a comeback for a 30-all tie at the end of regulation.
“They had Brandon Franklin (the East-West All-Star MVP) at quarterback and he was hard to stop,” Stanley said. “But we won it in overtime when they missed an extra point.”
South Rowan’s 35-28 win over North Davidson meant just as much to Stanley because it was on his Senior Night and the Black Knights entered that game 9-0 and ranked fourth in 4A.
“I remember playing every snap of the first half — offense, defense and special teams — and I was ready to collapse at halftime,” Stanley said. “Our quarterback, Hoke Shirley, jumped at the end zone and held the ball out there for the touchdown we scored in overtime.”
And then, Daniel Crosby stripped the ball from a North Davidson ballcarrier to secure the win.
Stanley was lightly recruited, but he was a great student and had an academic scholarship, a teaching fellowship, to go to Western Carolina.
“I told the coaches there I was coming to Western as a student, and I really wanted to play football,” Stanley said. “I send my film.”
It took coaches a while to watch it, but when they did, Stanley had a spot on the team. He redshirted a year, gaining strength and weight. Then he became a special teams player and a backup linebacker.
He lettered on special teams, but his biggest contributions to the program came after a sudden move to fullback after injuries depleted the Catamounts at that position.
“I remember learning the fullback position during our bye week, and that was a thick playbook,” Stanley said. “I was studying it in class. I had my geography book open, but I had the playbook open inside the geography book.”
Learning fullback put Stanley on the field a lot more frequently and was a satisfying, if bruising, experience.
“I probably was a Division II player playing at a level higher than I should’ve been,” Stanley said. “But fullback was the perfect position for me, and it was a position where I could compete at that level. I never minded laying a lick on people. I’d use my body like a battering ram. I could be a wrecking ball.”

•••

That game at Florida was scary, but not as scary as it might have been.
“We’d had some injuries, so I was the backup long snapper when we went down there, even though I’d never done it in a game,” Stanley said. “I was praying the regular guy didn’t get hurt. The last thing I wanted was to be snapping the ball over our punter’s head with 80,000 people watching.”
Stanley’s third major concussion came in a spring game collision and finally ended his playing days, but he learned a lot in Cullowhee.
His coaches at Western included Matt Rhule, now the head coach at Temple, and Geoff Collins, now defensive coordinator at Florida.
“I had great coaches at Western, and that was after learning a lot from Coach Vanhoy, Coach (Larry) Deal and Coach (Jason) Rollins at South,” Stanley said. “I made a lot of coaching connections at Western from being on the football team. I had an opportunity to be an assistant at Smoky Mountain High in Sylva even before I left Western.”
Stanley earned his degree from WCU and was hired in 2009 at Carson to teach history and to serve as one of Mark Woody’s football assistants.
“The game I remember most from that year is when Carson played at South Rowan,” Stanley said. “It was just a weird feeling being in that stadium but being on the other sideline.”
Joe Pinyan was hired as Carson’s coach prior to the 2013 season.
When Stanley played for South in 2003, one of the teams the Raiders beat was a Salisbury team coached by Pinyan.
“We didn’t really know each other then,” Stanley said with a laugh.
Now Stanley coaches Carson’s safeties and spurs, and he looks forward to each day in the classroom and on the field. He’s having some influence. The Cougars are flying around on defense, the way Stanley used to do in his high school days.
“I’m a young coach on a staff with a lot of experienced coaches,” Stanley said. “I learn something new every day.”

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