If you ever lose sight of the football when Vineland High School is on defense, just look for the player with No. 15 on his back and the long, dirty-blond locks flowing out the back of his helmet.
It’s almost guaranteed that Calvin Stiles will be in the vicinity of the ball carrier.
With great instincts and a strong nose for the ball, the senior linebacker finds himself in the center of the action on most plays and, once in position, he possesses the ability to finish them off with jarring hits.
“Anticipation is the key (when playing defense) and Calvin has that,” defensive coach Kevin Pulley said. “He gets his reads quick and as soon as he sees that key, he’s gone.”
Stiles’ ability to get to the ball in quick fashion is half the battle, but completing the play is just as important. On a team that is struggling to find its niche with tackling, Stiles has been an exception.
So, what’s the secret to being a good tackler? Stiles said it’s very simple.
“It’s all fundamentals,” he said. “I didn’t have a great preseason with my tackling. I just need to get back to the basics. That’s all we’ve been hearing about from the coaches since camp. Get back to the basics and the tackling will get better.”
Stiles certainly has been listening. He racked up 10 tackles, including six for losses, in the opener against Buena. He added eight more tackles against Pleasantville last week. He’s also has a fumble recovery and an interception.
After his strong opening week, Vineland coach Josh Hedgeman wasn’t afraid to call Stiles’ number for a heavy blitz package that put pressure on the Pleasantville quarterback. Stiles created plenty of havoc, rushing through the center of the line on several plays including one that ended with his first sack of the season.
“Getting to blitz, it’s definitely a perk of playing defense,” said Stiles, who is a two-year starter at linebacker. “Every defensive player loves to get that chance.”
Hedgeman isn’t surprised at Stiles’ production.
“He’s been playing tremendous football, that’s the way we expect him to play,” he said. “Calvin is a smart player who is continuing to develop. Obviously, he’s been making plays for us on defense, but he’s played pretty well on offense, too. His blocking has been much better.”
Stiles doubles at tight end on offense. He’s a solid run blocker who has the ability to make the tough catch in traffic, too.
While making plays comes naturally for Stiles, the senior had to learn something new this season.
“I needed to become a leader,” Stiles said. “I’ve never really been that person before. I’ve been quiet and would just go out and play, but being a senior, it’s different. Being a senior comes with a sense of leadership and something just clicks. It’s actually been invigorating for me, it’s something I’ve enjoyed.”
Stiles also likes to run wild in the open field during the spring when he’s a successful lacrosse player. Just don’t ask him to chose one sport over the other.
“No way, I’m not going there,” he said. “I love both sports too much. There are lot of similarities between the two, though. There’s plenty of running and you always have the hitting, although there are more restrictions in lacrosse. And the team skills are basically the same, too.”
Stiles, who is a frequent member of the Principal’s List at VHS, would like to play sports, whether it’s football, lacrosse or both, at the collegiate level. He plans to study something in the forensic science field, but, calling himself “a very religious person,” said theology might also be on his future curriculum.
No matter what path he chooses, Stiles will be ready to tackle any challenge ahead of him.