Rick Stockstill had a simple message for his son, Brent, in the spring of 2013. The Middle Tennessee State coach’s son was preparing to enter his father’s program as a quarterback.
“I told him ‘You can win the Heisman here or you could never play a down here,’” the elder Stockstill said. ‘You’re going to have to earn everything you get.’”
Brent earned MTSU’s starting quarterback job in fall camp, and he’s earned the confidence of his teammates with a big start to his college career. Stockstill’s 891 passing yards and nine touchdowns are the most of any freshmen quarterback in the country. The left-hander threw for 369 yards and five touchdowns last Saturday as the Raiders opened Conference USA play with a 73-14 rout of Charlotte.
“I think our tempo’s been great,” said Brent of the fast-paced, no-huddle Raider attack. “That’s what we pride ourselves in. We always talk about getting the first first down and then go from there. If we’re able to continue to do that over the course of the game, we’re gonna wear people down and hit some big plays later in the game.”
It was late in the game when Brent, a football and baseball star at Murfreesboro’s own Siegel High School, arrived at the decision to stay home and go to MTSU. He originally committed to Cincinnati, and was still slated to join Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats even after sustaining a torn ACL. Following a state playoff baseball loss, though, Brent’s path to play for Rick began to take hold.
“He busted his tail rehabbing and after the game, I said ‘Brent – this is a coach speaking, not your dad – you’re everything a coach wants to coach from toughness to character to competitiveness, leadership, all of it,’” Stockstill recounted. “I said ‘You’re gonna do a great job up there at Cincinnati.’ He looked at me and said ‘Dad, all I ever wanted to do was play for you.’”
Tuberville granted Stockstill a release from his scholarship, but there was no scholarship available at MTSU at the time. Following a gray shirt year in 2013 and a redshirt year in 2014, Stockstill is hoping to lead his dad’s program into a bowl game for the fifth time in his 10-year tenure.
“The whole recruiting process, when I was growing up, we always said we were gonna go our separate ways,” Brent said. “When it got down to it, I kind of realized it’d be a heck of an experience to play for your dad. Not many guys get to do that and spend those extra four to five years with their dad. He’s my role model so I thought ‘Why not play for him?’”
As a veteran coach who played quarterback under Bobby Bowden at Florida State and coached at the likes of Clemson and South Carolina, Rick understood the challenges associated with having his son as signal caller.
“I said no matter what you do, you can win the Heisman, you can win every game and somebody’s gonna think that the only reason you’re playing is because of me,” Stockstill said.
Nonetheless, Stockstill believed he and Brent had the makeup to make the match work. That confidence, combined with the credibility Stockstill had built in establishing a solid program at MTSU, made him comfortable with bringing Brent into the fold. Brent beat out last year’s starting quarterback, Austin Grammer, for the top spot on the depth chart entering the season.
“This team knows that he’s playing because he earned the job and he’s a good player,” Stockstill said. “If you came to a practice and walked into that locker room, you wouldn’t know if I had a son out there or not. I’ve probably been harder on him than anybody, especially early, going out of the way just to make sure everybody knew that there wasn’t any favoritism.”
MTSU did not enter the season as a favorite, but has shown the potential to challenge C-USA frontrunners Western Kentucky and Marshall during a 2-1 start. The Raiders hung 70 points on Jackson State in their season opener, and were competitive at times against Alabama in a Week 2 loss. Balancing football and a more normal father-son bond, the Stockstills will lead MTSU against Illinois and Vanderbilt before moving into the brunt of C-USA play.
“It’s a positive relationship for us and a positive thing for this team,” Brent said. “It’s never football all the time, now or growing up. I would always have to initiate the conversation. He was never a coach off the field. I would have to ask him questions and I loved it that way. I wouldn’t change a thing about my relationship with him and we’re very confident about the rest of the season.”
Above: Even when he was younger, Brent Stockstill found himself at home on the MTSU sidelines with his father, Rick. (Brent Beerends/MT Athletic Communications)