Shawn Stankavage never assumed he would be a high school football quarterback.
For his entire life, he has answered, “Yes, I am. He’s my father,” when asked the about his relationship to former University of North Carolina and NFL quarterback Scott Stankavage.
And when asked whether his mother was an athlete, he replies, “Yes, Sue Walsh.” He omits that she was a U.S. Olympic swimmer and perhaps the greatest Atlantic Coast Conference swimmer of all time with eight NCAA national titles, three AIAW national titles and 23 ACC championships while swimming at UNC.
“It’s the name,” he said, explaining the usual questions about his parents. “It’s recognized.”
But he said he has never felt any pressure to play or excel in athletics. He has had no mental burden of living up to the athletic accomplishments of his parents. He played a lot of sports when he was younger and did not know which ones he would eventually take seriously.
There was no push to football, or swimming, or any sport.
“Not at all,” he said. “My parents never pushed me into athletics. I play because I enjoy it.”
Scott Stankavage said the family always tried to balance supporting Shawn and pushing him.
“You want him to be the best that he can be,” Scott Stankavage said. “But you certainly don’t want him to feel pressure or to take the fun away.”
‘Natural feel for the game’
Stankavage is 16 years old and is 6-foot-2 and weighs 170 pounds. He has enough speed and agility to play several sports, and he has.
He played soccer at a high level, but gave up the game as an eighth-grader because it was a year-round sport. He also played baseball and he swam, but never seriously enough to adopt a swimmer’s lifestyle of early morning and late afternoon practices. “That sport is not for me,” he said.
Last year, as he entered high school, he decided to play football and basketball, and he still hasn’t decided which sport he’d like to play in college.
He spent much of the 2011 football season recuperating from a stress fracture in his back, but was able to split playing time between the junior varsity and the varsity.
This fall, he competed with Dante DiMaggio for the Cardinal Gibbons starting quarterback job. DiMaggio might be a better athlete, but Stankavage said his strengths are seeing the field, reading defenses and understanding what is about to happen.
Gibbons coach Steve Wright said Stankavage has the ability to pick the right receiver and throw the right pass.
“I’m sure his background has helped him, but there is more to it than that,” Wright said. “You always talk about a quarterback having the ‘it factor,’ whatever ‘it’ is.” Shawn has a natural feel for the game. You can’t teach that.”
Dad ‘helps me see things’
Scott Stankavage, who played with the Broncos and the Dolphins, said his son benefited from learning about spacing and angles during his years playing in the Triangle United soccer program. He and he son watch football game film and the father tries to pass along fundamentals he learned from coaches such as Gary Kubiak, Mike Shanahan, Chan Gailey, Dan Reeves, Don Shula and David Shula.
“He helps me see things,” Shawn Stankavage said.
“I’ll ask him what he sees and he’ll say four deep (pass coverage),” the father said. “I’ll say yes, but the cornerback has outside leverage and the linebacker is one step closer to the line than the other one and is probably going to blitz. When you check the safety, he is cheating over to pick up the running back because the linebacker is blitzing.”
Wright said Stankavage played well in season-opening victories against Clayton, 20-15, and Cary, 15-12, but also made some crucial mistakes that led to turnovers.
“Our turnovers put us in tough spots, but we managed to escape. Against (Cameron) Union Pines, Shawn really seemed to take a step forward,” Wright said of the 50-17 win.
Stankavage completed five of seven passes for three touchdowns in the Union Pines victory and passed for 127 yards in last week’s 49-17 win over Ravenscroft.
“One of the things that I’m learning is to stay in the pocket more,” Stankavage said. “Last year with the JVs, I’d pull it down and run. I’m trying to stay with the pass a little longer.”
Football vs. basketball
Wright said Stankavage has a lot of room for improvement. Stankavage usually does a good job of throwing a pass where ball needs to be thrown, but he has had five passes intercepted. Sometimes he runs when he should stay in the pocket and sometimes he passes when he should run.
“I can see him growing as a quarterback,” Wright said. “He’s improving.”
Scott Stankavage has been told that Shawn may be a Division I basketball prospect, but his son is not in a hurry to make a decision between football and basketball. He averaged about 4 points per game in basketball as a varsity freshman in 2011-12.
He feels no pressure to pick and has no desire to specialize.
That’s the way it has always been.