Many parents have to pry their sons away from video games.
Kyle and Fawn Stoner have a different kind of virtual reality issue, a very good one at that.
Their son, Nick, is a star in a video game.
Stoner, a junior wide receiver and punt returner at Indiana University, is ranked as one of the fastest players in EA Sports NCAA Football ’14 game, which was released this month.
NCAA rules forbid current athletes from being named in the game, but it’s clear that the wide receiver for IU wearing No. 14 — Stoner’s number in real life — is the Center Grove grad.
“How cool it is to have (that) happen,” said mother Fawn, who learned of her son’s video-game prominence through social media as Nick’s friends started posting about seeing him featured. “It is surreal as a parent.”
The game ranks the top 15 fastest players, listing Nick as No. 13, with a 96/100 speed ranking as well as high marks for “acceleration.”
The software is based on projected lineups for major NCAA football teams and attempts to incorporate the features of skill position players.
That speed is no surprise. As a Center Grove senior, Stoner won the state championship in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and anchored the winning 1,600 relay as the Trojans took the 2011 state title. He already has earned NCAA All-American honors on the IU track team as a member of the Hoosiers’ 1,600 relay team that placed eighth at the 2012 indoor nationals.
Sure, he is fast in real life, but friends say Stoner’s virtual speed has taken him to another level.
“When I got the game and saw how fast he was, I couldn’t believe it was actually him,” said Mark Kwiatkowski, who grew up playing sports with Stoner in Center Grove and now is a junior on Franklin College’s basketball team. “It was unbelievable for him to be on the level he is now.”
It is not the first time Stoner has been included in the game, but earlier versions did not have this kind of speed, nor did they accurately portray his appearance.
“It is pretty cool because the first year I had a different skin complexion and a different number,” Stoner said after finishing his morning workout Wednesday in preparation for the Hoosiers’ real football opener against Indiana State on Aug. 29.
“This is a humbling experience.”
Humbling, and also exciting for friends and family who now can pretend to be No. 14 on the Hoosiers’ offense, while getting in a friendly jab at the same time.
“Of course he’s scored touchdowns for me,” said Kwiatkowski, who lines up the Hoosiers and makes sure his friend Stoner is on the field each time he plays.
“The first time I played, though, Nick was going to break a punt return for a touchdown and he got caught from behind,” he chuckled, saying he let Stoner know that his breakaway speed failed him. “Nick said, ‘That game is not realistic.’”
No, video games may not always be realistic, but mom hopes positive results will translate on the field.
“I am going to buy the game, practice it so he can score a touchdown, and then take it to a live IU game and see if it works,” said Fawn, noting her son is reluctant to talk much about the game and his newfound celebrity status. “He’ll talk all day about his niece and nephews, but not himself.”
Indeed, Nick Stoner is more concerned about what IU produces on the football field, not a video screen.
“We got people hyped up last season,” he said of the Hoosiers, who were just a few crushing plays away from a breakout season. “Now, it’s our time to reap the benefits of hard work. It’s motivation. We are ready to step up and represent IU.”
For his part, the wide receiver has been working especially on strength and ball security.
“I’m getting stronger hands so I can go up and not let some Purdue guy take it from me like happened my freshman year,” he said.
Stoner emerged as a key contributor last season, catching 13 passes for 118 yards and returning 13 punts with a solid 5.8 yard average.
All the ingredients are in place for the Hoosiers to make a big move in the Big Ten. Nineteen starters return on offense and defense from a team that started 2-0 before four straight fourth-quarter losses sent it spiraling to a 4-8 record.
“We were just a few plays away from 8-4,” Stoner said. “It’s a mental thing. Just believing and trusting in ourselves that we can pull through in the fourth quarter.”
Indiana opens with five straight home games and has winnable home contests against Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue.
For the Hoosiers to succeed, it will help if art imitates life in the form of Stoner’s top-ranked video game speed.
“Beautifully placed ball to Nick Stoner for the touchdown,” one video game-playing friend tweets, while posting a screen shot of Stoner’s character catching a ball down the seam with open field ahead.
As pretty as that may be with enhanced graphics on a big-screen TV today, it would be even more beautiful for Stoner and IU fans on the turf of Memorial Stadium this fall.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.