In one week, offensive lineman Justin Stevens has earned his first two Big Ten offers. Indiana and Michigan State offered scholarships back-to-back when the 6-foot-6, 280-pound senior from Mississauga (Ontario) Clarkson Football North visited both campuses.
A month ago, Stevens was verbally committed to Eastern Michigan. Syracuse offered a scholarship, causing him to re-assess his options, which ultimately led to him re-opening his recruitment. Now he sits with three Power Five offers with less than a month to the Early Signing Period. Stevens will sign during the early period because he plans to enroll mid-year at the school he chooses.
All of this is happening because of a series of fateful decisions Stevens and his family made along the way.
A native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Stevens picked up American football his freshman year at Auburn Drive High School. The game there is played different – for instance, they only have three downs – and once Stevens decided playing college ball was a goal, he had to make the decision to move away and attend Clarkson Football North, which has a handful of out-of-province kids who board or stay with host families and also plays a tough schedule of teams in the U.S.
When Stevens came to the school, he was a defensive lineman. There was not a lot of recruiting attention coming his way. So he made another decision and went to offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jamie Lalonde.
“At the end of last season, he was about 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, had no offers, and he thought maybe he should move to offensive line,” Lalonde said. “He came to me and asked, ‘Can I do it?’ I told him he can do whatever he wants to, so he started gaining weight. He had shoulder surgery, so we were working two to three times a week in the high school gym, working on footwork and stuff like that. But it was tough because he couldn’t do anything with his upper-body because it was in a sling. Slowly he started working more and started getting healthy.”
The real test would come at college camps. At Toledo, he passed that test and received his first scholarship offer. Michigan State was in contact around that time and invited him to camp and he did so. While an offer did not come from the Spartans that day, it laid the foundation for Thursday’s offer.
“I was invited out to camp and thought it was a great opportunity to get my name out there,” Stevens said. “Clearly it was, as you see the situation I’m in now.”
This has not happened by mistake. It has happened as a result of Stevens trusting his instincts in making the decisions he has, his physical talent and willingness to work with the coaches at North.
“He’s one of the most athletic guys we’ve ever had,” Lalonde says. “He’s a freak in terms of what he can do athletically, and in terms of the person, he’s an unbelievable kid. He is such a good kid to be around. He’s ambitious. He moved away from home to chase his dreams and he’s accomplishing that. I helped him along the way, but it’s all him and it’s awesome what he’s done.”
Lalonde believes Stevens can still improve because he has only been playing offensive line for such a short period of time. If his trajectory continues, Lalonde said we could see Stevens playing on Sundays one day.
First thing’s first, though – he must make a college decision.
His father flew in from Nova Scotia and accompanied him on his visits to Indiana and Michigan State.
“I thought (Michigan State) was an attractive school and has coaches who can help me surpass this caliber of college football,” Stevens said. “These coaches know how to lead players to successful careers in the pros.”
“It’s been so crazy,” Lalonde said. “He has another school contact him almost every single day. He has been catching fire since his de-commitment from Eastern Michigan. It has exploded for him and it’s surprising in one sense but not surprising in another. He’s trying to get his head wrapped around everything and stay humble.”
Even with a few weekends left to visit schools, Stevens said he has seen what he needs to see and will not be taking any official visits.
Michigan State sits at 17 known commitments in their class but does not have an offensive tackle in that group.
Allen Trieu covers Midwest football recruiting for 247Sports. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.