Originally published for SDFNL Magazine.
Story by Eric Williams
Prior to the 1985 prep football season, San Diego City Schools changed their recording format for game reels from 8-millimeter film to videotape. At that same time, CIF officially allowed third party teams to video record games for the purpose of scouting their opponents. The invention of the DVD in 1995 allowed for more advanced athletic programs to take the early edge in scouting and also recruitment. By the turn of the century, the ability to “Burn” DVDs soon became accessible to all football programs and individual players across the country. In 2005, three men who had studied computer science and design founded a video sharing company that would become known as YouTube. A decade later, high quality video footage can be recorded and instantly shared on-line within minutes. Because of this advancement in technology, the football recruiting game has changed, and so too has the ability for football programs to prepare for each game and scout their opponents. Being able to immediately view game film over the Internet has also helped the media to better analyze athletes and different levels of teams. It also gives fans a better look at football programs from all across the country.
Being a North County resident for so many years, I haven’t always been able to watch the top high school football prospects from the South Bay and East County areas of the San Diego except for during the CIF playoffs. To learn more about some of the great football talent we have in this city, I scan the Internet for game film of the players and teams I notice who are making the most noise. Sometime last season, I typed the words, “Nathen Stinson Helix Football” into the YouTube search engine of my computer because I wanted to learn more about this speedy running back who I had seen in a playoff game at Mission Hills during the 2013 season. When the results popped up, I discovered a vault of incredible video footage that goes all the way back to Nate Stinson’s days in Pop Warner.
Watching Nate Stinson highlights on video is exciting, but you don’t get a chance to really see how hard the kid works unless you see him play live. This past Friday Night, I took the journey to Southwestern College to watch the Helix Highlanders take on the Bonita Vista Barons. I wanted to see firsthand who Nate Stinson was in person. Nate did not disappoint that night running for just under 100 yards on 13 carries with 2 touchdowns, including a nifty 33-yard run that broke the ankles of multiple defenders from Bonita Vista. The most noteworthy observation I made was Stinson’s detailed pre-game workout. From stretching to warm-up, and controlled offensive drills, Stinson was focused the entire time. He worked very intensely with his running back coach making sure to stretch his legs and get his footwork settled in. Stinson also worked hard on his power moves. Nate Stinson’s work ethic during pre-game testifies to why he is so good come game time. He’s loose; he’s strong, and ready to roll by kickoff.
Nate Stinson’s Story
Nate Stinson started playing football when he was five years old in Southeastern San Diego for the Valencia Park Hornets, and he knew he wanted to play high school football since his Jr. Midget days. His family also played football for Valencia Park, and Stinson grew up right here in San Diego attending Vista La Mesa Academy for elementary school later moving on to the upper grade levels at Millennial Tech Middle School in La Mesa. When I asked him about his experience at those schools Stinson humbly explained, “It was pretty nice.” Stinson played football his freshmen year of high school and he also played baseball, but he decided to join the Track and Field team for his sophomore year. It was a decision that may have left the Helix Baseball team without a potential star, but one that helped give the Helix Track program the fastest 4 x 100 relay team in all of San Diego County.
Comprised of Stinson, Michael Austin, Mason Vinyard, and Mekhi Stevenson, the Helix relay team ran a 42.02 in the San Diego CIF finals and went on to represent San Diego in the State Track Meet this past June. “It was very competitive,” Stinson said. “It was really good.” Stinson says that Track and Field has been beneficial to his game on the football field, “It’s helped me increase my endurance and breakaway speed.” It is a scary thing to consider for defensive coordinators around the county because Stinson also holds the sixth fastest 100-yard dash time ever at Helix running a 10.77 in 2015. That explosiveness and cohesiveness that Stinson, Austin, Vinyard, and Stevenson exhibit on their 4×100 relay team, carries over to the football field as well.
“We have great Chemistry,” Stinson explained about his Helix teammates. “Mike is an outstanding quarterback. He’s a great runner too. You try to tackle him and he’s already out. Mekhi is real good. He’s got that speed, and he can jump too. He has great hands. If you try to cover him one-on-one, it’s probably not going to work. You’re just going to be running down the field. Mason Vinyard is a monster…on offense and defense! Jihad Woods is a beast at linebacker. He’s fast too. Nobody is going to get to the outside on him!” After tough open division playoff losses to Mission Hills in 2013 and to Oceanside in 2014, Stinson and his teammates are focused on playing one week at a time in 2015. “We’re just going to work hard each week for the games we have right now, and when that time comes for playoffs we’re going to work even harder. That time is going to be some real hard practice weeks; I can already tell…I can already see it.”
Helix Highlanders (The Scotties)
Stinson describes the feeling that comes with playing for one of the best high school football programs in San Diego saying that, “Playing at Helix has been great. The atmosphere is great…the fans get hype, and we have a big student crowd out each game.” Stinson said he also hangs out with his teammates during his free time, “Sometimes my teammates and I will go through our plays, but mostly we’ll just kick it.” When I was writing a short piece on Mekhi Stevenson for SDFNL, I discovered on Twitter that one of Stevenson’s friends was an aspiring musical artist who goes by the name of Louie the Rapper. I asked Stinson to give me some insight on the kid because from what I saw on Sound Cloud, Mekhi Stevenson had created some tracks with Louie under the name M2B. “That’s my dude right there,” said Stinson about Louie. “That’s my dude. He’s a good rapper. I respect his music.” But the fun and games that come with being a great football program does not come without hard work from its players and coaching staff. And that work ethic begins with legendary Helix head coach, Troy Starr.
For 14 seasons, Starr was the head coach of the Woodland Hills Taft high school football program in Los Angeles. He led Taft to six Division-1 championship games winning the title in the 1998 game. Starr finished his run at Taft with a record of 139-36-1. In 2007, Starr resigned from Taft to become the director of football operations for Urban Meyer at the University of Florida. In 2008, Starr took over the program at Helix and since then has compiled a record of 75-19-1 during his tenure at the school. Starr has taken Helix to the San Diego County CIF semifinals in all seven of his seasons as head coach, and he has led the team to appearances in four San Diego CIF championship games. Coach Starr led his Helix squad to a State Championship in 2011 after playoff wins vs. Torrey Pines, Mission Hills, and Oceanside, outscoring those teams 109-13 in the process. In the Championship Game, Helix beat Loomis Del Oro who at the time were winners of 12 straight games.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but he teaches us lot and he prepares us for college, so it’s worth it,” Stinson said about playing in coach Starr’s program. Chris Davis from east County Sports reported that coach Starr said Nate Stinson is, “In my personal opinion, the best back in the county.” I e-mailed Coach Starr myself and asked him to speak a little bit about his star running back and he said, “Nate is the best RB in the county and it’s not even close. He has matured into a leader on this team.” Stinson also recognized his running back coach Jason Van saying, “He is the best running back coach I have ever had.” Stinson credited Coach Bobby Austin as well who he says, “Got me on that Vertamax and got me right…that thing aint no joke.” Nate told me I should try it out sometime, but I told him after many years of playing sports, I would be too afraid or tearing some part of my body on that thing.
Friday Night Lights
Imagine for a moment it’s the year 2012, and you are the freshmen football coach at Helix Charter High School; you take a look at your RB core and you have three great options with Adrian Petty (Christian High School), Derrick Clark, (Mission Bay) and Nate Stinson (Helix). So what happened in the next few years that allowed Nate Stinson to become the #1 back for one the best programs in San Diego? Christopher Smith from MBA Sports Recruiting explains that, “Nate Stinson flat out worked harder than anybody else. He was patient, and he believed in himself. Nate is a “team first” kind of player who respects the game of football,” explained Smith. “He is a gym rat who may just be the strongest player pound for pound in San Diego. He is electrifying to watch. There is no doubt about it, Nate Stinson is the best running-back to come out of the Helix football program since Reggie Bush,” said Smith. “One-on-One there is no LB who can catch him…Period!”
Stinson’s first Varsity appearance for Helix came during his sophomore year, a game in which he got hurt. After watching from the sidelines for a few games, Stinson returned to the field stronger. “I was out for like four weeks, and I came back and earned the starting spot after that.” During the football season, it’s all business for Nate and his Helix teammates. “Mondays are the hardest days for practice. We run a lot. On Tuesdays we take it light, but still get work done. On Wednesdays we go hard at practice, but not as hard as Mondays. On Thursdays we review for the upcoming game…sometimes we will watch film on our opponents.” On Friday’s though, it’s go time for Stinson. “Throughout the whole day on Friday’s, my adrenaline is just going, and I prepare my mind for the game. Closer to game time, the same adrenaline is there but I start to get more hyped.”
When it’s not football season, Stinson puts in even more work. “During the offseason, I run track so that prepares me for football. I also work on my cuts and footwork, so I can stay right.” Via the Coach Ro Show last week Stinson said, “In the offseason we’re in the locker room lifting weights at 6:00 AM before school starts.” Stinson says that Coach Starr also runs the weight room program at Helix. I asked Nate if he models his game after anybody in the NFL, and told me, “Ladainian Tomlinson…he’s the original.” The comparisons are there athletically to LT, but Stinson also carries with him that same soft-spoken demeanor that Tomlinson had and that underlying fire LT had to be the best player in every game. Because he can catch ball very well, Stinson is also a great option in the passing game, much like Tomlinson was for the Chargers in the early 2000’s. Stinson says other coaches have compared his running styles to Maurice Jones Drew. I like to compare Nate Stinson’s game with Darren Sproles. He is about the same height and weight as Sproles and Stinson has that same burst of speed Sproles is known for when he sees daylight.
The stats are hard to find for Stinson’s sophomore season in 2013 but in the four games I found on Max Preps, Stinson racked up 430 yards on 51 carries. He also had two touchdowns including a 75-yard touchdown run versus West Hills. In his junior season, Stinson had over 180 carries for 1,550 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns in 13 games. Those 20 touchdowns included runs of 92, 80, 76, 64, 59, 56, and 45 yards. Stinson also ran in 3 touchdowns for just over 30 yards in that same season. During his first four games of 2015, his senior season, Stinson has carried the ball 65 times for 568 yards and 10 touchdowns averaging about 142 yards rushing per game. This season, Stinson already has touchdown runs of 66 and 42 yards vs. Eastlake, 52 yards against Chaparral (AZ), 51 yards at Cathedral Catholic, and 33 yards this past week against Bonita Vista. For his career, Nate Stinson has averaged just under 9 yards per carry and 120 yards rushing per game. He has 10 touchdown runs of at least 50 or more yards including 4 touchdowns of 75 yards or more and another 6 touchdowns of at least 30 yards playing at the Varsity level for Helix. “My mindset is just to play hard every game,” Stinson told me. “I just try to stay humble.”
Stinson has offers from Northern Arizona, Idaho, and Southern Utah. Portland State is also looking at him as well. “I’ve always thought it would be good to play for San Diego State because it’s close to home…right up the street. I’m open-minded though…I’ll go anywhere.” Stinson is a RB whose 40-yard dash has been laser timed at 4.38, and at 5’5’ 180, the bulky speedster can squat over 500 pounds. Stinson is also holding down a very solid GPA of 3.3. “I’ll be making an official visit to NAU to see how that goes. Football is important to me, but so is my education.” During our conversation, Stinson was all in and he answered every question I asked of him politely and respectfully. It goes with all that hard work and humbleness Stinson consistently exhibits. He is focused off the field and the results have been positive on the field both personally and for the Helix football program as a whole. “On the field, my speed is my biggest asset. Off the field, I’m a really funny guy. I’m cool with everybody,” Nate proudly expressed to me.
Stinson said he wanted to work on talking more to his teammates during games, “I don’t really talk that much during actual games. I’d like to talk to my teammates more and get them more hyped during the game.” It’s not that Stinson doesn’t communicate well because as he explained to me, “During practice I’m talking the entire time.” Asked about his advice for the younger kids in pop warner or at the freshmen and JV levels Stinson said, “Just play hard and focus on your game. Don’t do anything stupid. If you’re an athlete, don’t post ignorant things on social networking sites because somebody is always watching…always watching.” I asked Nate about his career goals and he explained, “I love Science, so I’m thinking about being an engineer.” I told him that it’s a pretty tough career with a lot of work, and he responded confidently to me saying, “I can do it…I can do it.” Not only is Nate Stinson dedicated to Helix teammates, he also cares about other athletes from around the county. “I have a lot of respect for Elijah Preston. He’s a great running back. Also my boy Derrick (Clark), and my boy Myles Dumas.”
A Humble Kid from San Diego
If you ever get a chance to see Nate Stinson’s videos on YouTube from when he played Pop Warner football, you will definitely hear his family supporting him in the background cheering and laughing as Nate breaks away from the defense for a long TD run much like he has done so many times during his high-school career. “Their great supporters…They don’t pressure me so I like that,” explained Stinson about his family. Via e-mail, I connected with Seven60 Athletes Inc. Founder and President Coach Fale Poumele to learn more about Nate Stinson’s character qualities. Poumele told me, “Nate is a great kid both on and off the field. He brings out the best of anyone in his presence including his coaches and peers. Thinking back I remember taking a team to a 7v7 tournament in Fontana and Nate hurt his hamstring in the very first game. He tried playing into our second game but he physically was unable to continue. Instead of going home, he made the decision to stay and root for his teammates and helped our staff by coaching some of the underclassman on the sidelines.” Coach Fale also said that Nate comes from an awesome family where his humble and stand out personality comes from. “Nate is one who puts others before himself and a young man who is selfless, humble, loyal and very respectful He truly is a great kid, and I am very excited to see what the future holds for him.”
As a media member it’s important for me to not be biased, but I can’t lie Nate Stinson is one of my favorite prep football players in all of San Diego County. You can tell when a player has that instinct, when he has that extra level that only the great ones can reach. Stinson is an exciting player to watch; he will literally put defenders on the ground, ankles broken. Stinson has incredible lateral movement, and he is great at recognizing the holes his offensive line develops. With quick and subtle footwork, Stinson has been beating defenders on the outside since he was 10 years old. Don’t believe me? Go check for yourself. Type his name up in the YouTube search engine. Pretty much every football video I’ve watched of Nate Stinson contains just about the exact same footage. Nate finds the hole and then explodes through it faster than lightning, finishing with what has become Stinson’s signature highlight…a breakaway to the house!
It’s time to put this kid on the national radar. Being an educator, my primary goal in writing these articles is to further promote hard working student athletes in San Diego County. Nate Stinson is a hard worker, but he is also a standout individual. As we finished our conversation he finished with a few more words, “I want to give a shout out to my family and also Coach Starr.” I told Nate thank you for taking the time to do an interview with me, and he finished our conversation telling me, “Thank you coach.” Nate Stinson is more than just a dynamic running back; he is smart young man who respects life and the people in it.
You can follow Nate Stinson on Twitter @calimadenate
You can follow Eric Williams on Twitter @WBKsports