All senior defensive tackle Mike Stover can see are plays.
Like the play from his true freshman season, the one he could never remember. All Stover had to do was slant in one direction. Hit the gap. Clear a path. The simplest move in the Tribe’s simplest blitz.
And yet, on this play, Stover always found himself in the wrong gap.
“Our number one blitz,” defensive line coach Trevor Andrews remembers, laughing. “A very simple slant in one direction, and every time for six weeks he would just mess it up.”
“Coach Andrews would tell me all the time, he would get ripped like crazy because I would not get to my gap,” Stover said.
“I was tired of getting yelled at by the defensive coordinator,” Andrews said.
Fast forward to last fall. Tribe versus New Hampshire, winner probably goes to the FCS playoffs.
Fourth-and-five, 1 minute, 55 seconds remaining. Stover rolls outside off a stunt and swats down a pass from New Hampshire quarterback R.J. Toman. Game over.
And that’s when Stover knew.
“New Hampshire always has a very good offense, and I was making some plays,” Stover said. “That was getting me excited, like, ‘I can be this good.’”
After struggling with his confidence for two-and-a-half years, Stover went on a tear to end the season. Four tackles versus Richmond. Two tackles for a loss versus Southern Illinois. Eleven tackles in the NCAA Semifinals versus Villanova.
It would have been a dream end to a dream season if not for that last meaningful play versus Villanova.
Stover’s voice becomes quiet as he sits back on the couch. In his mind he’s back on the field on that cold November night. Fourth-and-one, 2:40 left on the clock: if the College can’t stop Villanova here, the season is over.
“I got cut,” Stover said. “I got cut by their center. And if I didn’t get cut, maybe I would have been able to keep my gap because [the running back] ran right through my gap. I think that was one of the only bad plays I had.”
Stover’s mind returns to the present, but the memory is still there. The “what if” of what might have happened if he hadn’t been cut-blocked that day.
“Mike’s such an intense person, and he has a personality where he takes everything to heart,” Andrews said. “He doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, ever.”
Stover thinks about the last question. Has the team used Villanova as motivation this spring?
“That was a big one,” Stover said. “Being that close makes you hungry. The players chose as one of their slogans ‘Finish.’ If we want to get to that point, we have to finish.
“We have to finish what we started last season.”