November 4, 2009 8:22:00 AM
Toughness and commitment are one to Seth Stillman.
It''s something he thinks about when he is on the field and in pain Friday nights with his "brothers" on the New Hope High School football team.
As difficult as it is for Stillman, a senior linebacker, to describe the intensity of that pain, he is somehow able to compartmentalize that feeling and allow his leadership skills to take over.
At no time did Stillman''s presence on the field mean more than it did on Friday night in New Hope''s game against Hernando at Trojan Field.
The Tigers rallied to score 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take a 28-21 lead with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter of their Class 5A, Region 1, District 2 matchup.
Stillman was in obvious pain during that rally. He walked to and from the huddle like a wounded animal sheltering its body from the advances of a predator.
But even though Stillman''s body curled up to protect itself, he didn''t leave the field. He was on the field with a little more than two minutes to play to see teammate Jarmar Payne recover a fumble that helped give the Trojans a chance to win the game in regulation.
Stillman was back on the field at his left defensive end position in overtime to help New Hope snuff out a fourth-down option pitch to preserve a 35-28 victory. The win secured second place in the district for the Trojans (8-1, 5-1), who will travel Friday to play at Indianola Gentry.
The pain Stillman felt Friday isn''t likely to go away. There''s a good chance it will return time and time again as long as the Trojans stay alive this season.
Stillman knows that, and is almost comforted by it, because despite it all he knows he will be on the field and there for his teammates, and they will be there for him, too.
"I look at toughness as never wanting to come out of the game," Stillman said. "It is knowing you can help the team win by staying on the field and there is nothing that is going to get you off the field.
"There is a big difference between being hurt and injured. If there is any way you can stay on the field, I feel that is what you need to do. It is just a part of the game."
Stillman defines being "injured" as when a player can''t go and there is no way a player can push through the pain. He said being "hurt" is when a player suffers from aches and pains but is able to push past that and get his job done.
Looks might have been deceiving Friday night because it appeared Stillman was injured. But Stillman has experienced the pain enough to know his limits and that it was something he could stand.
"It gets to where it is like a state of mind," Stillman said. "If you can tell yourself, ''I am fine and I want to help this team and I want to be a part of this win,'' you just push through and you don''t think about it. You''re in there to make plays. You''re in there to help the team. That''s what you do."
New Hope coach Michael Bradley has seen Stillman carry that attitude through an injury-plagued career at the school. This season, he said Stillman''s desire to lead by example drives him to stay on the field in every situation.
"Seth is a very tough young man," Bradley said. "He played 12 games last year with one arm. He is still battling injuries. One thing you can count on Friday night is he is going to go out there and give you everything he has got. Because of injuries, everything he has got is not all he has, but it is all he has given the injuries he is playing with.
"Like I told my team, if you can''t admire somebody and respect somebody and want to follow somebody who gives that kind of effort and is that selfless, there is not that much to you as a player or as a person. He has my complete respect."
Stillman doesn''t covet that respect. He isn''t the team''s loudest player, but his work ethic and desire to win are unmatched.
Stillman''s mind-set is just one of many reasons New Hope, which went 1-9 three years ago in Bradley''s first season, has reversed its fortunes and has created "a family," as Stillman calls it, that enjoys hard work and commitment. There also is a sense of satisfaction from realizing sacrifice and perseverance will help the team accomplish its goal.
"We have had some really good leaders develop on this team the past couple of years," Bradley said. "Seth has seen some of those guys -- Jonathan Guerry and David Johnson -- and taken the very best of what they did and he has added his leadership style to it. He has my total respect, and I think he has the entire team''s respect.
"It is not like he goes out and says, ''Follow me.'' The guys naturally gravitate to him because of his work ethic and his attitude."
Stillman talked Friday about that mind-set when he said the Trojans "believed," and that a New Hope team of the past wouldn''t have been able to take Hernando''s best punch and regroup. He credits Bradley and the coaches for stressing a point that has helped motivate him: There is not anyone on this team that is any more important than anyone else.
That''s why Stillman refuses to allow another player to take his repetitions in practice so he can stay fresh for Friday night. It just doesn''t feel right because it''s not setting the example Stillman feels he has to set for a program that is hungry to become a champion.
"I love this team and everybody on this team, and everybody on this team is like a brother to me," Stillman said. "I am going to stay out there and go to war with them every play, every game, no matter what. I am not going to leave them out there along. I am going to be out there and fight with them every play until I get carried off the field."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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