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Aw, come on, Maud, even you admit that your family in general and Stefan in particular sound too good to be true. "Sure." Pass the gumbo. St. Thomas supervising principal, the Rev. Vincent T. Kelly, says it's easy to explain: "The Humphries are brilliant people who are aware of their ability and potential." Yet, it's more than that; as Michigan Defensive Coordinator Bill McCartney says, "Ability just gives you the chance to be good, and a lot of guys working in factories have potential. You must take that talent and potential and put it with motivation to go and get something done."
In Stefan's case, he has gone and done everything. In addition to his academic and athletic attainments, he also is editor of the short story section of his school's literary magazine, played a radio operator in the recent St. Thomas production of South Pacific , sang in the chorus ("There is nothing like a dame") and tootles the flute.
Understandably, Stefan is idolized by teachers and schoolmates alike. Sister John Norton, principal of St. Thomas, says, "He is an example of everything good," though she does plead with him to open his mouth when he talks and to get rid of his newly sprouted mustache. Theology teacher Barbara Sullivan says, "I've never met an individual as remarkable as Stefan." Hump's fellow seniors have voted him class scholar and most likely to succeed. Andre Jackson, a wide receiver on the football team, says, "Whenever I thought I didn't care about my schoolwork, Stefan gave me the word and I cared again."
Despite this acclaim, Stefan is humble. It truly embarrasses him that he can't think of any pursuit in which he has failed. Pushed to answer, he looks pained and falls silent, hoping that the quiet will make the question go away. Suddenly he is elated. "Baseball," he says. "I failed at baseball. I'm terrible at it. I can't hit and I can't catch." He also can't resist the thought—probably correct—that "if I were to practice, though...."
St. Thomas (enrollment: 1,272), located in a working-class neighborhood of southwest Fort Lauderdale, is close geographically but a long way psychologically from the Where the Boys Are beaches. Humphries isn't the school's first notable alumnus by any means. There were Running Back Brian Piccolo, who graduated from St. Thomas in 1961, Chris Evert, class of '73, and Rosie Ruiz, the ersatz Boston Marathon winner, who attended from 1968 to '71 but finished at another school.
This was a banner year for football players at St. Thomas. Three of Stefan's teammates also got major-college scholarships—Defensive End Cyrus King (Notre Dame), Wide Receiver Cameron Benson ( Illinois) and Defensive Back Sean Brooks (Northwestern (La.) State). Father Kelly has a straightforward view of his school and sports, saying, "Much of our success here is due to athletics. But we always get right to the point. If you want to be helped academically, we'll help. If not, get."
This attitude appeals to Stefan, who says, "Everybody has the potential to succeed in school. All you need to do is apply yourself." Which Stefan does.
If he wanted to, of course, he could float through his days with no effort. But that wouldn't be Stefan. He walks into calculus class, where he is immediately at ease with the tangent to the axis, the hk as the center of a hyperbola and the mysteries of a horizontal ellipse. "Calculus teaches you how to think," says Stefan. During an especially intense stretch of recruiting, he took a calculus test and made a 98. So much for distractions.
In sociology, the subject is prejudice and how to define it. Stefan says that, race aside, he could be prejudiced against one kind of ice cream. The teacher says, "Ah, you don't mean to tell me you are prejudiced against chocolate ice cream?" The bell rings and Stefan walks out of the class, past a poster that says SOME OF US HAVE IT AND SOME OF US JUST KEEP LOOKING FOR IT, and on to physics, where the problem is how binding energy relates to the photoelectric effect and Einstein's explanation of it. Stefan finds understanding Neils Bohr's concept of quantized energy a piece of cake. Later in the day he stows his books, puts on his track and field uniform—he also played basketball for St. Thomas—and, although he hasn't been able to practice much lately, throws the discus a school-record 166'8" at the District 15 3A meet. Oh well, all in a day's work.
"The thing I got from him is he wants nothing—including football—to interfere with his pursuit of education," says Schembechler. "He has broader interests than just football, and I like that."