Hard Work Pays Off (Lee Stalker)
After growing up roughly 35 miles outside Pittsburgh, a city known for its work ethic, it seems only fitting that those same characteristics have come to embody the play of senior Lee Stalker.
The Kent State defensive lineman has molded himself into an anchor along the defensive front due to an unrelenting desire to succeed, a willingness to sacrifice himself for the team and spending countless extra hours in the weight and film rooms to gain any extra advantage.
"He’s a very tough, blue-collar kind of player," Kent State defensive line coach Brian George said of Stalker. "He’s worked his way up through the ranks and has really made something out of himself as a football player through hard work and dedication to this program."
That work ethic can be traced to his western Pennsylvania roots where his father and his uncle instilled in Stalker a love for football that he still carries with him today.
"When you were younger, there were times when you wanted to quit," Stalker said. "I always had my dad and my uncle to push me, and, over the years, I began to love it."
Despite his passion for the game and an outstanding prep career, Stalker did not have many football options that interested him coming out of Butler High School. Instead, he looked to pursue another one of his loves - architecture - when trying to decide where to continue his education.
That search lead him to Kent State, which offered the best of both worlds: an opportunity to study architecture in an internationally renowned program and a chance to play Division I football as a walk-on.
In his first two years on campus, his contributions to the football team were not made on Saturdays but during the week in practice. As a scout team player, Stalker was responsible for simulating the upcoming opponent for the Flashes, which didn’t endear him to his teammates on the offensive side of the ball.
"I went as hard as I could everyday," Stalker said. "They (his teammates) hated me, but I feel like I made them better."
While his teammates may have begrudged him for his constant intensity, the coaching staff took note and awarded him the Defensive Scout Award at the end of both seasons. Then, they went a step further and gave Stalker an unforgettable birthday present: a scholarship.
"It meant a lot," Stalker said of receiving the recognition. "It’s no Heisman trophy, of course, but the coaches recognized the hard work I put in to try and improve. They recognized it and it led me to where I am today."
After earning the scholarship, Stalker continued to out-work his peers and secure more and more playing time. He appeared in all 12 games as a sophomore before earning a starting spot in six games his junior year. Then, prior to this season, he was named one of the squad’s six captains.
"It’s always doing the right things," Stalker said of being a captain. "It’s doing the little things right that make the success on the field happen. I’m just trying to relate that to my teammates to try to get them on the right steps as well to try and make our team successful."
"He’s a tremendous leader for us," Head coach Darrell Hazell noted. "The whole team admires him. They listen to him because he doesn’t only say it, but he lives it. So, it’s easy for those guys to follow him."
Stalker has been known to try and get teammates to join him in the film room to spend more time watching tape of the upcoming opponent. He estimates that he spends one or two extra hours each day reviewing tape to try and gain any edge possible.
Those additional hours, which Stalker squeezes in whenever he has a chance, have translated into a football IQ that mirrors many coaches.
"He’s one of those guys that understands it like a coach and communicates to other players what’s going on," George added. "That’s huge for our defense to have a guy that can understand what he sees from the offense, and, from our standpoint, be able to check us into the right thing."
Stalker seemed to make all the right calls in 2010 as he helped the Golden Flashes compile one of the top run defenses in the entire country. Kent State allowed just 97.17 rushing yards per game, which was the fourth-fewest in the FBS, and he made 7.5 tackles for loss on the year.
However, the individual numbers or accolades aren’t what concern the 6-3, 274-pound lineman. He is intent on doing his job.
"I don’t need my name in the paper," Stalker said. "I don’t need the interviews or the pictures. If my job is to take the B-gap, I’ll take the B-gap. If it’s to come spill the ball, I’ll go spill the ball to the best of my ability. No matter what you tell me to do, I’m going to do it and do it to the best of my ability.
"There’s 11 on the field at a time for a reason," he added. "You may not make the tackle, but I’m sure, at one point of the play, you had a big impact on how that play ended, and that’s really my outlook on every play we do."
Stalker has carried that selfless attitude away from the field as well. He was one of the four Golden Flashes to make the trip to Alabama to help with the rebuilding efforts following the tornadoes in April. During the visit, Stalker and his teammates helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity and ran a football clinic for children affected by the disaster.
"He is a total team player," Hazell said. "He’s a guy that you want to go to war with because you know he’s going to fight till the end, and he’s going to watch over his buddies no matter what."