Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
Steele sophomore running back has rushed for 1,497 yards and 13 touchdowns heading into the Knights' game against Spring Dekaney in the Class 5A Division II state final Saturday night.
Saturday, Dec 17 at 7:58 PM
The next great high school running back in the San Antonio area wears No. 4 for the Steele Knights.
His name is Justin Stockton and he’s only a 5-foot-9, 170-pound sophomore.
While Stockton leads the Knights in rushing this season, he sometimes gets lost in the shadow of senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who carries the offense with his passing, running and leadership.
But Stockton’s value to the team is undeniable and transcends his impressive stat line and physical skills. His attitude, work ethic and maturity reflect the qualities that have been central to Steele’s rapid ascent to success under Coach Mike Jinks.
Stockton is a different type of running back than U.S. Army All-American Malcolm Brown, who powered the Knights to a state title last year, but they are cut from the same cloth as selfless team players who stay grounded.
The first words out of Stockton’s mouth in an interview this week reflect that humility.
“I’m just happy to be with the team,” he said. “I had big shoes to fill. Malcolm was great and taught me a lot of things. I just went out there and did the best I could do.”
Stockton’s best has helped move Steele within one victory of back-to-back state championships and extend its winning streak to 28 games.
Steele (15-0) plays Spring Dekaney (13-2) in the Class 5A Division II state final at 8 p.m. Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Knights driven to win state again
“Even though we won a state championship last year, we were still hungry,” Stockton said. “Nobody expected us to come back. We were the underdogs, but we played our game and showed people that we wanted to win state again.”
The Knights finished 14-2 last year, reeling off 13 consecutive victories after stumbling to a 1-2 start. Steele won state in only its fifth varsity season last year, beating Denton Guyer 24-21 for the 5A Division II title crown.
“I’m glad that we’re going up there a second time,” Stockton said. “It’s great to have an opportunity to win state again. We have great coaches who have taught us well and we feel that we’re ready.”
Stockton saw considerable playing time as a backup last year to Brown, now a freshman at Texas.
“Malcolm taught me that a good character outside of football is very important, because you have to build up a reputation,” Stockton said. “One bad thing can mess up everything you’ve worked for.”
Stockton has rushed for 1,497 yards on 147 carries, a 10.2 average, and scored 13 touchdowns this season.
“He wasn’t himself after he got banged up a couple of games back, but you can definitely tell the difference now,” offensive coordinator Scott Lehnhoff said. “He’s got that burst again. You can definitely see that explosion. He looks like he is floating across the turf.”
Stockton back at full speed
As demonstrated by his stellar game against Port Arthur Memorial in the state semifinals last week, Stockton is running at full speed again after spraining his left knee early in the second round of the playoffs against Brandeis.
He had only one carry in that game and never left the bench the following week when the Knights beat Laredo Alexander.
Stockton had 60 yards in the state quarterfinals against Reagan and was outstanding in the 51-31 romp past Port Arthur Memorial, rushing for 215 yards on only 13 carries. He stunned the Titans with a 93-yard TD run that showcased his breakaway skills.
“I feel fine now,” Stockton said. “I’m at 100 percent again. A lot of what I do on the football field just comes natural. I’m just thankful to God for what he gave me.”
Stockton is also thankful for his outstanding offensive line, which is anchored by senior center Payton Jackson and tackle Arthur Mata.
“They’re the ones who open up the holes,” Stockton said. “I couldn’t do anything without my line.”
Stockton a Florida native
Stockton showed flashes of greatness last year, running for 607 yards on 54 carries for an 11.24 average and scoring six TDs.
“Justin is a special kid,” Jinks said. “He’s still growing up. By his junior year, he’ll be the type of running back that can carry a team, like Malcolm did. He’ll be up there with some of the great ones we’ve seen around here the past few years.”
Born in Day City, Fla., Stockton moved to Cibolo with his mother and younger sister before he began the eighth grade. Stockton credits his mother, Melissa Stockton, for inspiring him to succeed on and off the field.
“She supports me in everything I do,” he said. “She’s supported me in football since I was a little kid. “Without God and her, I couldn’t do the things I’ve done. She’s a strong mom. She really helps out my little sister and me.”
Stockton also praised Jinks, Lehnhoff and running backs coach Nicholas McDow for their guidance.
“They’ve always been there for me,” Stockton said. “They’re not only great coaches, they’re great teachers. They want us to succeed not only in football, but in everything we do.”