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Hart's Erik Stafford marches to his own beat

Lineman is one of Hart’s biggest, strongest and most uniqe players

Posted: December 11, 2013 10:32 p.m.
Updated: December 11, 2013 10:32 p.m.
Hart senior Erik Stafford has started three years on the offensive line and he’s played nearly every position on the line through the years. Hart senior Erik Stafford has started three years on the offensive line and he’s played nearly every position on the line through the years.
Hart senior Erik Stafford has started three years on the offensive line and he’s played nearly every position on the line through the years.

Erik Stafford is a walking contradiction.

The Hart senior fits a lot of the stereotypes of a jock. He’s a big, tough offensive lineman who can outlift pretty much everybody on the football team.

He doesn’t shy away from contact — if anything he seeks it out. And he’s an important cog on this newly crowned CIF-Southern Section Northern Division champion Hart team.

“It’s a good release because all of us have enough stress in our lives and it’s good sometimes just to strap it up, strap the gear on and beat the snot out of somebody,” Stafford says of the game he’s been playing since sixth grade.

But there’s a lot about this 18-year-old that doesn’t fit the mold of a big jock.

For one, Stafford carries a 4.41 GPA while taking a class load almost entirely made up of advanced placement courses.

He like “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Game of Thrones.” And he’s read all the “Lord of the Rings” books.

“That pretty much counts me as a nerd,” Stafford says.

But nerds don’t play football. Do they? Certainly not as well as Stafford has for the past three years as a varsity starter up front.

And although teammates have teased Stafford about his so-called nerdiness in the past, the 6-foot-3, 270-pounder is plenty comfortable in his own skin.

So if Stafford doesn’t fit conveniently into a stereotype, what can we call him?

“A little bit crazy, but also brilliant,” says teammate Trent Irwin.

Whatever classification you want to give Stafford, there’s no questioning his impact on a Hart team that ascended to its first CIF championship since 2003 with a win over Valencia on Friday. That win helped Hart (12-2) earn a spot in its first CIF State Regional Bowl Game in school history, where it will face Chaminade on Saturday in the Southern California Division II championship game. The game will begin at 7:30 at College of the Canyons.

“He’s a huge part. He’s definitely one of the leaders on and the off the field,” says Hart junior lineman Stephen Simon. “He’s always going to do his job. You’re not going to worry about him missing an assignment or something like that.”

Simon, in his first year as a varsity starter, said Stafford has taught him a lot about the details of playing the position.

Stafford will be Hart’s starting left tackle in Saturday’s game. The last time Hart played Chaminade — on Sept. 6 — he played right guard, a very different position.

At various points of the season, Stafford has played tackle and guard on both sides of the line and he’s even taken a few practice reps at center.

With three years of varsity experience, he and starting center Blake Porter are the two most experienced and most reliable players on the line.

Injuries to other linemen this season have created the need for some shifting around, and Stafford’s proven to be capable no matter where he plays.

“He’s probably one of the smartest kids on the team so he can be moved around because he can figure out the assignments for every position,” says Hart head coach Mike Herrington. “And he’s a good athlete. That makes him versatile to use.”

Stafford has been always been that type of unselfish player who will attack any challenge with the same level of intensity.

“I’m just a big guy,” he explained. “That’s pretty much it.”

Though at this point, it’s clear Stafford is much more than that.

Next year, he wants to attend a prestigious academic college and major in physics. His top consideration right now is Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

The senior says he may or may not try to play football at the next level.

He’s just taking life one obstacle at a time.

“Every week you have something. It’s a new challenge and in your head you’re like, ‘This is something I’m looking forward to,’ Stafford says. “After a while, you may be exhausted, you may be hurting and everything, you but you feel better mentally in the end. I think that’s just me. I’m probably crazy.”


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