Confetti, tossed in the air by his teammates, rained down on Jake Stenson when he walked into a meeting room in Seignious Hall in August.
WHO: Appalachian State (1-3, 1-0) at The Citadel (1-4, 1-2)
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Johnson Hagood Stadium
The senior slotback had just returned from the office of Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins with good news — he was finally on full scholarship.
“That was a good day,” Stenson says now.
The former walk-on from Jacksonville, Fla., has justified the investment this season, emerging as the top receiver and an effective runner for the 1-4 Bulldogs, who play host to 1-3 Appalachian State on Saturday.
Stenson has caught touchdown passes in the last two games, a twisting 23-yard grab against Old Dominion and a 15-yard score in last week’s 24-17 loss to Furman.
For the season, Stenson has a team-best eight catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns, and has rushed 10 times for 74 yards. His 7.4 yards per carry is the best average among current Bulldogs.
“One of the things that Jake has is hand-eye coordination that a lot of our guys don’t have naturally,” Higgins said. “He’s one of those guys who if you put the ball up anywhere close to him, he’s got a chance to catch it.”
Stenson, 5-11 and 200 pounds, comes by that hand-eye coordination naturally. He played football, lacrosse and soccer at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, the athletic powerhouse that produced former Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones, among others.
Stenson helped The Bolles School win state titles in football and soccer, and was named MVP of the football state championship game as a senior.
But when it came time for college, Stenson had some Division II scholarship offers for football and lacrosse, and a chance to walk-on at The Citadel, where out-of-state tuition is more than $40,000 per year.
“When I chose to walk-on at The Citadel, I had to tell my parents I knew what I was doing and I could prove myself,” he said. “But they were behind me the whole way.”
Stenson spent his freshman year on the scout team and tore his ACL in practice on the first day in pads in 2011.
“I’ve always believed that was a blessing,” he said. “I was out my whole sophomore year, but I was able to train with the strength coaches the whole year, and I came back in better shape than most people.”
Last season, his opportunities were limted as the Bulldogs went 7-4 with a deep stable of slotbacks. This year, with the departure of Rickey Anderson and a knee injury to Dalton Trevino, Stenson has grabbed the chance.
Higgins said he wants Stenson to return next season for a fifth year, when he will again be on scholarship.
“One of my favorite things is when you can reward a guy who has busted his tail as hard as Jake has,” Higgins said. “When you are a walk-on from out of state, you get very little money. So when you get rewarded with a scholarship, it means an awful lot.”