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THE CAN'T MISS KID
Douglas S. Looney
May 26, 1980
All-America honors in football and all A's in the classroom make Stefan Humphries of Fort Lauderdale, Fla....
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May 26, 1980

The Can't Miss Kid

All-America honors in football and all A's in the classroom make Stefan Humphries of Fort Lauderdale, Fla....

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Stefan derives his motivation from his parents. "I'm afraid not to do well," he says, but their influence is based on more than fear. To listen to Maud and Thornton is to get an instant lesson in using common sense as a parent. For example, in the Humphries house there was never time for bitterness about real or imagined inequities in white-dominated America. "My children can do anything anybody else's children can do," says Thornton. "So they had better do it. The only way you can be inferior is to take an inferior attitude. We feel education is first, sports are second. No matter how tired you are, you study." When sleep does conquer Stefan, he will awake in the small hours, go into the family room, sit down at the long table covered with flowered oilcloth and study. He has been doing it for years; nobody tells him to.

When her kids were growing up, Maud would conduct a summer school in the Florida room. The children read the classics, prepared reports, listened to fine music, discussed Porgy and Bess. A copy of the selected poems of T.S. Eliot is on an end table looking well thumbed and perfectly at home. Jim Harrington, dean of students at St. Thomas, says the real labor in turning out a young man like Stefan "is done at home. It takes hard work, and I can assure you it's no accident that Stefan is what he is."

"But our home wasn't a hostile place," Thornton says. "Love was shown. The children didn't have to leave home to enjoy themselves. We didn't send them to the beach. We gathered up the rubber balls and put hot dogs in a bag and we all went to the beach."

While Stefan obviously was born to success, he may have had a special motivation. He has weak eyelids that give his eyes a dull, lazy, I'm-lucky-to-be-able-to-tie-my-shoes look. At age 6, he underwent surgery for this congenital condition, and the left eye was operated on a second time. His father believes that "Stefan's eyes—and especially the taunting from the other kids, who called him Sleepy—made him more determined to be bigger, stronger, smarter, faster than all of them." Stefan says, "God must have a reason for making my eyes like this." Perhaps God had a bit of deception in mind. Looking at Stefan, a rival lineman must wonder: Will this guy wake up by the time the ball is snapped? (Note to the Big Ten: he will—every time.)

Says Coach Smith, "There will never be—well, it will be very, very hard for there ever to be—another Stefan Humphries. When he leaves here, a serious part of what we've accomplished is leaving also. But the good thing is everybody benefited—Stefan, the coaches, players, students, teachers."

"When Hump showed up at St. Thomas he had all the tools," says Assistant-Football Coach Marty Poplar. "We just sharpened, refined, honed them." Another assistant, Jack Hanrahan, says the only hard thing about coaching Stefan was "if you have a super kid, you want to make sure the coaches don't settle for anything less than a super effort. We didn't and he didn't." When Stefan was on the team, St. Thomas went 9-3, 10-1, 9-2. A lot of the reason was the success of plays run over Hump, particularly 31 Trap and 25 Counter.

Scouts, who really shouldn't be drooling at their age, couldn't contain themselves when they watched Stefan's quick feet and balance. He is magnificent straight ahead and just as good laterally. He runs the 40 in 4.8, linebacker speed. Is there nothing really wrong with him? Are there no warts? Please tell us he bites his nails. Smith thinks it over and then says, "He does have a tendency to hold." But, of course, there are mitigating circumstances. "He has such rangy arms that he just gets tangled up, hooked onto people." And how about this for a negative: "If there is a mediocre player across the line from him, he will not punish him," says Smith.

How can Stefan fail? Schembechler, stricken by the question, looks as if he has just been caught wearing an Ohio State sweat shirt. "Fail? He can't," says Bo. "He is one of the joys of recruiting. One of the first things he asked me was if Michigan has an overseas academic program. As far as football goes, we didn't talk much about it. He has such great explosion off the line of scrimmage, he could be a fine offensive lineman, but our immediate needs are defensive. He's a good player and he may be a great one. He even likes to listen." Another evaluator of high school talent says, "The only way he can fail is if he finds Michigan winters are not what he had in mind." And what does Thornton expect his son to do at Michigan? "Everything his coach tells him."

Even though Humphries' arms might "get hooked onto people," he is seldom penalized. One of the three infractions assessed against him all last season came with 56 seconds left in St. Thomas' opener, against Miramar High. St. Thomas trailed 13-7 and had the ball, first-and-goal, on the Miramar six when Stefan jumped offside and botched the drive. But consider this: for the 10 previous days he had been in bed with pneumonia and was playing dead tired.

Stefan made no such missteps when dealing with the recruiters. He set tough criteria and stuck by them. "The school would have to have a very academic atmosphere," he says. "Very. It would have to have a football spirit. I mean very big on football. It would have to have an easygoing social climate." Stanford lost out because Stefan feels it is "a little bit too easygoing. Plus, I'm afraid of earthquakes." That left a tormenting decision to be made between Michigan and Notre Dame. "I couldn't decide," says Stefan. "Finally, I prayed. I said, 'God, just by chance, let's flip. You make it land on which school I should go to. Heads Michigan, tails Notre Dame.' " Perhaps for the first time in football history God was not an Irishman: heads came up three times in a row.

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