Eight-ball is set to lead

Andrew Ivins

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Xavier Stinson lines up three yards deep in the backfield, waiting for the quarterback to call out the snap count, and for the ball to find its way into his hands.

It’s the first day of spring football practice for the FAU football team, and while nervous jitters float across the Tom Oxley Center practice fields, the man hidden behind a dark tinted visor is focused on setting one thing: an example.

Stinson, also known as “Eight-ball”, a red-shirt junior and the Owls’ starting fullback, is one of six starters returning to an offense that managed its worst overall performance in more than four years last season.

Gone from that unit are starting quarterback Jeff Van Camp and all-conference wide receiver Lester Jean. But if you ask the 5-foot-9-inch, 229-pound ball-carrier, that shouldn’t pose much of a problem.

“Our expectations are high this year out of the whole team,” said Stinson. “We want to go undefeated, and are really pushing the issue by having the leaders step it up.”

One of those leaders is the man preaching those words.

Having caught 12 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns last season, and rushing for another 95-yards on the ground. Stinson came into the spring practice second on the roster in receiving and rushing yards — impressive statistics for a player who took quite a path finding his way onto the Owls’ backfield.

Stinson was originally a highly touted prospect coming out of Chaminade-Madonna High School in Hollywood, Fla. , but one major setback hampered the recruiting process. Stinson suffered from an anterior cruciate ligament tear his senior year.

Electing to stay in South Florida and sign a grayshirt scholarship with the Owls, which allowed him to join the team during the next recruiting cycle, Stinson spent a whole year rehabilitating his knee and taking classes at Palm Beach Community College.

Once the injury was finally healed, Stinson donned a blue practice jersey for the first time ever and was officially a member of FAU’s roster. However, the Owls’ logo on his T-shirt and shorts weren’t enough; mentally the ball-carrier was lost.

“On and off the field I was discouraged; I tore my ACL, and I wanted to come in and play right away like every other high school player, but Willie [Rose] talked to me on and off the field about football and life,” Stinson said.

Willie Rose, FAU’s starting fullback and team leader at the time, took the younger Stinson under his watch and pushed him in the right direction. This eventually led to a starting role for the powerful runner.

Three years later, Stinson is instilling the same values he was taught by Rose to the younger players sitting next to him in the locker room.

“I feel like I have become a leader. I have taken Toney Moore under my wing and am trying to grow him into the best player he can be, and it’s not just him that’s looking up to me. The whole offense is looking up to me and Alfred [Morris] and everybody. We’re all like a family and brotherhood,” Stinson said.

Brotherhood is one way to describe the relationship between Stinson and Moore, who will be a redshirt freshman this fall. The older, more experienced veteran understands what it takes to find success at the collegiate level and his goal is to translate it to younger players like Moore.

Improving the team’s 4-8 record from last season is also in the back of Stinson’s head.

In last year’s final game against Troy, the fullback finished with negative yardage from scrimmage in the program’s worst loss since the first-ever contest against Slippery Rock.

“It hurts,” Stinson said of last year’s campaign. “Especially right after the Troy game and how we lost that game, and it’s still hovering over our heads. So that’s why this spring we’re working as hard as we can in the weight room, in the classroom and out here on the field,” Stinson said.

While his performance against Troy is one he would like to put behind him, the leader understands that the team’s success is more important than individual accomplishments.

“Whatever I can do to contribute to win games, it’s not really all about me,” Stinson said when asked about his personal goals for the upcoming season.

FAU will continue spring practice through April 23, when the program concludes training with the annual spring scrimmage.