In high school, Nick Stoner was the rare athlete who excelled at the highest level in more than one sport.
In college, he’s been the even rarer athlete who has achieved — on the Division I stage — at a high level in multiple sports.
A senior at Indiana University, he has played in every football game for the Hoosiers since his freshman season. In track and field, he’s been an NCAA qualifier and All-America selection for his sprinting exploits.
Yet Stoner, a 2011 Center Grove graduate, doesn’t define himself by his athletics accomplishment. Although he has high expectations for the football team and wouldn’t mind getting a shot at the NFL, he is approaching his final year at Indiana with an eye on a future that may or may not involve sports.
A devout Christian and an Academic All-Big Ten student, Stoner plans to attend seminary after receiving his bachelor’s degree in sociology. He is on pace to graduate in May and will go wherever he hears a calling after seminary. The pulpit is one possible destination. A sports-related ministry is another.
“I’m kind of going there to study and see where God calls me to go after that,” said Stoner, who is in the early stage of determining of where he’ll attend theology school. He expects to have a concrete plan in place in the coming months.
But post-college enthusiasm notwithstanding, Stoner — a wide receiver who happens to be one of the fastest players in the Big Ten — has unfinished business with the Hoosiers. And he’s equally excited about that.
A multiskilled player who began his college career as a cornerback, Stoner anticipates a breakthrough year for the Hoosiers, who are in their fourth season under head coach Kevin Wilson. Not only are they looking for what would be their first winning season since 2007, they are looking to earn a marquee
Indiana’s most recent postgame appearance was 2007, when it lost 49-33 against Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl.
Stoner, who has done everything from returning punts and kicks to making tackles to catching passes to rushing the football for the Hoosiers, looks forward to doing his part in what is projected to be one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.
He won’t gauge success by how many catches, yards or touchdowns he collects. Rather, he’ll measure it by how many games the Hoosiers win. He expects that tally to be high.
What follows is a Q&A interview with Stoner, who shares his thoughts on his final season at IU. A standout sprinter on the men’s track team his freshman and sophomore seasons, he sat out last year but might give it another run this spring.
As Stoner explains, he takes each day at a time and goes wherever he’s called.
Q: You’ve played in every football game since your freshman year. Do you have any specific goals for yourself in your final season?
A: It’s my last guaranteed year of football. I’m not much of a “self” guy. I know it’s kind of cliche, but I really just want to win a lot of games. So whatever I need to do to do that, to help the team win games, that’s what I’m going to. Whether it’s at receiver or special teams, I’m just expecting to go out there and play every play as hard as I can. I don’t really have a set goal for anything personally. I just want to win games.
Q: You’ve been plugged in a lot of different places. You’ve played some defense, offense, special teams. Has that been a fun mix? If nothing else, it seems like it’s created some additional opportunities to be on the field.
A: It’s definitely cool to be able to do all that stuff and being out on the field for these past three years. My freshman year, that’s all I did was play special teams. It’s cool getting that experience. I played a lot of special teams in high school, too. I mean, it’s just the game of football, that’s what it is. It’s not just offense or defense. It’s special teams, too, and they can be pretty fun.
Q: It has to be fun anytime you have the ball in your hands, right?
A: That’s always fun. And I love playing defense, so I always like hitting people, too.
Q: You guys score a lot of points and are pretty exciting to watch. How does the offense look right now?
A: Good. There’s a lot of good competition on the offensive side of the ball, and then the defense is giving us a really good look. They’re really pushing us, and we’re pushing, so we’re growing each day. It’s just looking bright. All the young guys are coming in and working really hard, getting to know the plays. So it’s really cool to watch each day, the offense and defense getting better and better.
Q: What do you like about coach Wilson’s system?
A: The intensity and the seriousness of it. I’ve heard that (the atmosphere) was not that serious before he got here. I just know that coach Wilson is a man on a mission, and that’s what a leader has to be. He has to have his eyes on the goal and bring everyone else with him, and I think coach Wilson does a great job of really pushing everybody, pushing the coaches to push us, we push each other and then push them back. So I think the atmosphere is really focused and just really goal-oriented, and I like his leadership.
Q: How has the school experience been? You wear a lot of different hats, juggling football, track and classes. Have you found a happy medium with all of that?
A: I plan on going to seminary after school, so right now I’m just getting my undergrad in sociology. I’m kind of used to the flow of things now. It’s even more exciting because I’m ready to go to seminary afterward and start studying in that area. I’m pumped about that, but I’m just living day to day. I’ve definitely got the flow of things down.
Q: What are your plans for seminary, and what you would like to do after college and where you hope that takes you?
A: You know, I’m not sure exactly. I don’t know if I want to be a pastor necessarily, I just want to study the Word in depth. I want to know the background of each thing and the historical contexts. I don’t know where that will take me. Maybe I’ll just end up getting a regular job and have that knowledge. I’ve really felt called to maybe go into sports ministry, because I played two sports in college, and I know the struggles that sports can give you and how overwhelming it can be at times. So I’m kind of going there to study and see where God calls me to go after that.
Q: Track, are you still doing that in the spring?
A: I’m not really sure. My whole plans with seminary, if I ran track ... it just depends on how my body is. I want to give everything I have to the school and that program because it did a lot for me, but I’m not really thinking too much about it right now. I’ll see how it goes when football season’s over.
Q: What are your team objectives this year?
A: We have the confidence right now to accomplish anything. I’ve never been that guy, and I don’t think anybody on our team is this guy that just shoots for a bowl game. That’s only six wins. I think our goal is to do much bigger things, win every single game and just beat the crap out of whoever’s in front of us that game and just win that particular game. There’s no, “Let’s get six wins or just seven or eight.” We’re trying to win every single game we play.
Q: Are you looking forward to the season-opener and seeing where things go your final year?
A: It’s bittersweet. This is my last go-around in football, my last guaranteed year. It’s bittersweet. I’m ready to get things going. At the same time, this is my last time. I’m definitely ready to get on the field and start playing games and start showing the country all the work we’ve been putting in.
Q: You’ve mentioned before that the NFL might be on your radar. Is that still something that you think about?
A: From time to time. Like I said, I’m not too future-oriented. I can let God work out those areas of my life. But if the opportunity presents itself and I feel called to go there, or maybe football will be over for me, even if I have an opportunity. Maybe God’s calling me to go to seminary now or go overseas or something like that. So that’s my mindset. If I don’t go (to the NFL), I’m going to go to seminary and be just as happy with that. That’s how I feel about it.