Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill was recalling the time he met Sonny Collins. “My sophomore year in high school, I broke my leg. That was the same year Sonny Collins hurt his knee,” he remembered. Stockstill said he was visiting his doctor, preparing to rehab the broken leg, when he looked up to see UK’s star tailback getting treatment, too.
Stockstill beamed as he told the story. The coach, in his third season in Murfreesboro, grew up in Georgetown, where his father, Joel, was an assistant coach at Georgetown College, then head football coach at old Georgetown High.
“I’ve said this all along and I’ll go to my grave saying that I wish my kids could have grown up in Georgetown,” Stockstill said on Wednesday, before his Blue Raiders hit the practice field in preparation for their game on Saturday with UK.
“It was a wonderful experience. I’ve got fond memories of Georgetown,” the coach said. “I would go back and do it all over again.”
After moving from central Ohio, the Stockstills spent nearly a dozen years in Georgetown, where father Joel made a name for himself as a high school coach.
In 1975, Georgetown and Scott Co. merged. Flush with talent, the Cardinals won the state 2-A championship. Stockstill would have been a quarterback on that team, but the family moved to Fernandina Beach, Fla., where Joel Stockstill, out of job in Kentucky, took over as coach.
There, Stockstill became a star, landing a scholarship to Florida State. He played for the legendary Bobby Bowden, helping the Seminoles to a couple of top-10 rankings. Stockstill earned honorable mention All-American honors in 1981.
He parlayed that experience into a coaching career. For 24 years, Stockstill was an assistant coach for some of the biggest names in the profession: Danny Ford, Ken Hatfield, Tommy Bowden, Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier.
Finally, Stockstill got a chance to run his own program. He took over at MTSU in 2006, promptly leading the Blue Raiders to the Sun Belt championship in his first season. “This was the only head coaching job I’ve ever interviewed for. I was never one of those guys who said if I don’t become a head coach, my career is a disappointment.”
Last weekend, Stockstill and his team celebrated the biggest football moment in school history: a 24-14 win over Maryland. Now, he brings his upstart team to Lexington to face the Wildcats.
“I’m not too fired up about playing Kentucky,” he said. “It’s going to be tough for us to move the ball.”
“I’m excited for the opportunity to go to a place, where 30 years ago you used to go there as a kid and watch games and now you’re the head coach of a team going in to play the University of Kentucky.”
Stockstill has been inundated with requests for tickets. His high school buddies from Georgetown have been calling and e-mailing for weeks, some wanting as many as 40 tickets. Stockstill says he’s doing all he can to take care of them, but he's afraid he won't be able to fulfill their wishes.
Regardless, Stockstill knows he'll have a boisterous Georgetown contingency in the seats at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. They'll be a reminder to the coach of his youthful days in the Bluegrass.
Welcome back, Rick.
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