SIMPSONVILLE – Years ago, Lori Grant had her 3-year-old son with her when she was out to eat with some friends.
“We were asking him all kinds of questions, and my friends were so amazed he could speak so well at that age,” she said. “He had to tell them, ‘Stop. Let me concentrate. I’m eating my food.’ ”
Which amazed them all the more.
Years later, Erica Acker finds that Roderick Stoddard, a senior at Hillcrest High School, still stands out.
“It’s rare to find a student who is curious and wants to improve in my class,” said Acker, Stoddard’s Advanced Placement English teacher. “Believe it or not, I have a lot of kids who are very complacent with where they are, and really he’s not like that.”
Stoddard never had any use for complacency, which is one big reason he should fit in well at West Point.
Wednesday was National Signing Day, the day known widely as the first that senior football players are able to sign National Letters of Intent, although athletes in some other sports can do so as well.
At Hillcrest, six members of the Rams’ first state championship team made their college choices official, including Stoddard, an All-Region 1-AAAA defensive end who will continue his career at the United States Military Academy.
Five of Stoddard’s teammates also are college-football-bound: two-time all-region offensive lineman Jamarion McBride will play at Coastal Carolina; all-region defensive tackle Tay Scott at Wingate University; two-time all-region defensive back and all-region wide receiver Kevin Eichelberger at Union (Ky.) College; and all-region offensive lineman Kenneth Sims at Georgia Military College.
Also Wednesday, Lauren Adkins, a two-time all-region volleyball player who helped the Rams win three state championships, signed with Presbyterian College.
Stoddard said coaches from West Point first came to see him last spring and then made him an offer in the summer.
“I didn’t really consider it at first, because I thought it was going to be hard,” he said. “But the more I looked at it, the more I thought it benefited me as a student and as an athlete, and I want to serve my country, too.
“God gave me an amazing opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
And you better believe he took a good, long look at the situation.
Any situation. Every situation.
“He’s like his father,” Lori Grant said. “If you say something, they’ll smile, they’re polite, but they’re registering what you say.
“Sometimes he seems slow to respond, but he’s processed what you just said multiple ways, and he’s thinking, ‘How is he going to respond?’ ‘What direction is he going?’ ‘Where are you coming from?’ He doesn’t just assume you meant one thing. He’s always been like that.”
His parents split when Roderick was 3, said his mother, who lives in Georgia. He’s lived with his father since then, although he’s gone back and forth.
His father, also named Roderick (the younger is Roderick Stoddard II), also played football at Hillcrest. His father played the baritone, just as Roderick did until this year.
“Most of the things he’s done, I did before him, so I had a lot of insight for him,” the elder Stoddard said.
His father began steering Roderick toward self-reliance at an early ago. His mother recalled Roderick being about 4 years old when his father would have him reading instructions to video games.
“He would ask me how to play a game,” the elder Stoddard said, “and I would tell him to read the instructions. ‘Don’t look for me to give you the instructions. Read it for yourself and figure it out.’ If he needed help with the words, I’d tell him the words, but he had to figure it out on his own. He had to be independent.”
He became independent, and he became interested in video games, and computers and technology in general.
He started playing games on the computer, surfing the Internet, fixing computers. He became quite handy with software.
When he arrives at West Point, Stoddard, who maintains a 3.8 grade-point average, plans to major in cyber engineering.
His father said Roderick strives to be the best at everything he does, and Acker said he does so in an upbeat manner.
“The thing I admire most about Roderick is his attitude,” Acker said. “I’ve never seen him complain. I’ve never seen him not smiling. I’ve never seen him have an unkind word for anyone — in the hallways, in the classroom, when I’m watching, when he thinks no one’s watching.
“He’s a great student. He wants to learn. He wants to do well. When he makes a mistake, he wants to know what he did wrong or how he can fix it.”
Hillcrest coach Greg Porter said he feels as though Stoddard was overlooked in the recruiting process, perhaps because at 6-foot and 253 pounds, he is undersized as a lineman.
But Porter takes pride in the total package that Stoddard has become.
“When we say student-athlete, that’s a student-athlete right there,” Porter said.
Both the student and the athlete in Stoddard were amazed when he took in the Army-Navy game in December.
“I’ve never had that feeling in my life,” he said. “I’ve never been in that situation, in that environment, but I loved it. You have to experience it to know what it’s like. The wow factor.”
He’s given others the same feeling, even if he was too busy concentrating to know it.