Maud Humphries has just served up her special-recipe spicy crab gumbo, and now she is awaiting the reaction. She gets it instantly from her husband, Thornton, at the other end of the table. Thornton wipes his face with a napkin and says, "You eat this stuff and you get tears in your eyes, your lips sting and your nose runs. Isn't it wonderful?" There is great, good laughter—pass the iced tea—all around. Even Stefan, Maud and Thornton's 18-year-old son who's already wrist-deep in gluttony, interrupts his chewing to join in. Outside their Fort Lauderdale home, the soft spring breezes are blowing away the leftover heat of the day and the palms rustle in relief. Inside, lively conversation continues—pass the hush puppies—and everything does seem wonderful.
And well it should. For in this ideal, if somehow unreal, south Florida setting, 6'4", 235-pound Stefan Humphries has become the ideal, if somehow unreal, college football prospect of 1980. He's an extraordinary player with extraordinary brains in an extraordinary family fueled by extraordinary gumbo.
Stefan was named a high school All-America by Scholastic Coach magazine and Player of the Year for his district by the Fort Lauderdale Touchdown Club. He was an all-county and all-state selection and co-winner of the National Football Foundation, Brian Piccolo Chapter, Scholar Athlete Award, beating out 24 other athletes from his area for the honor. Blue Chip magazine picked him as one of the nation's 150 finest college football prospects, and Joe Terranova of National Prep Publications calls him one of the nation's 15 best recruits.
Nearly every college that pumps up a football humped for Hump, as he is called. Recruiters from more than 40 universities trekked to Fort Lauderdale to smile and grovel. Michigan got him and probably will play him this fall at defensive tackle, although most of Stefan's experience has been in the offensive line. Wolverine Coach Bo Schembechler says, "He has the attitude, the athletic ability, the size, the motivation, the scholastic ability, everything."
Schembechler has good reason to be positively giddy. In these days of sleaze in college football—including all manner of fakery when it comes to transcripts, class attendance, recruiting, etc.—Stefan (named by his mother after a doctor on the television soap Young Dr. Malone) is a lighthouse in a stormy night. His high school coach, George Smith, says, "Stefan gives you faith in what you're doing."
Indeed, Hump is proof that the system, whatever that is, can produce an outstanding football player who loves the game but who knows there are many things more important than being able to knock somebody down. Like what? "Like my mind," says Stefan.
Meet Stefan's mind. In the senior class of 260 at Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas High—a school with fine and growing athletic and academic reputations—Humphries ranks first with an average of 99.40 (see box). His lowest marks are 93s in communication arts and typing, but he shoots the lights out in physics, calculus, biology, Latin, American history, chemistry and theology. All of which doesn't much impress Stefan, who is a member of his school's National Honor Society chapter. "Frankly, I'm more interested in learning than I am in grades," he says.
Stefan hasn't come by such high-mindedness accidentally. His father was a high school valedictorian and got a basketball scholarship to Seattle University, where he was a teammate of the legendary Elgin Baylor. "What I learned at Seattle," says Thornton, "is that if you didn't get the ball to Elgin, you found your way to the bench mighty fast." Thornton is principal of Everglades Traditional Middle School, and at 6'7½", 275 pounds he's fully capable of upholding any traditions you care to mention. Maud was valedictorian of her high school class, went to Florida A&M on an academic scholarship and teaches English at Dillard High.
This brings us to the Humphries' firstborn, Thorna, who was valedictorian at St. Thomas in 1973 with an average of 98.4. She is completing her master's (as a scholarship student) in computer science at MIT. The second child, Shawn, was valedictorian at St. Thomas in 1974 with an average of 97.9 and is completing her second year (on scholarship, of course) at Nashville's Meharry Medical College. The third child, Faye, was—oh, horrors!—35th in her 1977 St. Thomas class of 232 with an average of 93.15. "I don't have any complexes," says Faye with a laugh. "I'm not stupid." Her scholarship came in basketball from Tennessee State, where she has completed her junior year. And then, of course, there is Stefan.
"In this house, we set goals, and once they were attained, we set higher goals," says Thornton. "We taught all the children how to study, then required it. Stefan had no choice in the matter. What we do around here is work hard and achieve. I was just the enforcer."
Aw, come on, Maud, even you admit that your family in general and Stefan in particular sound too good to be true. "Sure." Pass the gumbo. St. Thomas supervising principal, the Rev. Vincent T. Kelly, says it's easy to explain: "The Humphries are brilliant people who are aware of their ability and potential." Yet, it's more than that; as Michigan Defensive Coordinator Bill McCartney says, "Ability just gives you the chance to be good, and a lot of guys working in factories have potential. You must take that talent and potential and put it with motivation to go and get something done."
In Stefan's case, he has gone and done everything. In addition to his academic and athletic attainments, he also is editor of the short story section of his school's literary magazine, played a radio operator in the recent St. Thomas production of South Pacific, sang in the chorus ("There is nothing like a dame") and tootles the flute.
Understandably, Stefan is idolized by teachers and schoolmates alike. Sister John Norton, principal of St. Thomas, says, "He is an example of everything good," though she does plead with him to open his mouth when he talks and to get rid of his newly sprouted mustache. Theology teacher Barbara Sullivan says, "I've never met an individual as remarkable as Stefan." Hump's fellow seniors have voted him class scholar and most likely to succeed. Andre Jackson, a wide receiver on the football team, says, "Whenever I thought I didn't care about my schoolwork, Stefan gave me the word and I cared again."
Despite this acclaim, Stefan is humble. It truly embarrasses him that he can't think of any pursuit in which he has failed. Pushed to answer, he looks pained and falls silent, hoping that the quiet will make the question go away. Suddenly he is elated. "Baseball," he says. "I failed at baseball. I'm terrible at it. I can't hit and I can't catch." He also can't resist the thought—probably correct—that "if I were to practice, though...."
St. Thomas (enrollment: 1,272), located in a working-class neighborhood of southwest Fort Lauderdale, is close geographically but a long way psychologically from the Where the Boys Are beaches. Humphries isn't the school's first notable alumnus by any means. There were Running Back Brian Piccolo, who graduated from St. Thomas in 1961, Chris Evert, class of '73, and Rosie Ruiz, the ersatz Boston Marathon winner, who attended from 1968 to '71 but finished at another school.
This was a banner year for football players at St. Thomas. Three of Stefan's teammates also got major-college scholarships—Defensive End Cyrus King (Notre Dame), Wide Receiver Cameron Benson (Illinois) and Defensive Back Sean Brooks (Northwestern (La.) State). Father Kelly has a straightforward view of his school and sports, saying, "Much of our success here is due to athletics. But we always get right to the point. If you want to be helped academically, we'll help. If not, get."
This attitude appeals to Stefan, who says, "Everybody has the potential to succeed in school. All you need to do is apply yourself." Which Stefan does.
If he wanted to, of course, he could float through his days with no effort. But that wouldn't be Stefan. He walks into calculus class, where he is immediately at ease with the tangent to the axis, the hk as the center of a hyperbola and the mysteries of a horizontal ellipse. "Calculus teaches you how to think," says Stefan. During an especially intense stretch of recruiting, he took a calculus test and made a 98. So much for distractions.
In sociology, the subject is prejudice and how to define it. Stefan says that, race aside, he could be prejudiced against one kind of ice cream. The teacher says, "Ah, you don't mean to tell me you are prejudiced against chocolate ice cream?" The bell rings and Stefan walks out of the class, past a poster that says SOME OF US HAVE IT AND SOME OF US JUST KEEP LOOKING FOR IT, and on to physics, where the problem is how binding energy relates to the photoelectric effect and Einstein's explanation of it. Stefan finds understanding Neils Bohr's concept of quantized energy a piece of cake. Later in the day he stows his books, puts on his track and field uniform—he also played basketball for St. Thomas—and, although he hasn't been able to practice much lately, throws the discus a school-record 166'8" at the District 15 3A meet. Oh well, all in a day's work.
"The thing I got from him is he wants nothing—including football—to interfere with his pursuit of education," says Schembechler. "He has broader interests than just football, and I like that."
Stefan derives his motivation from his parents. "I'm afraid not to do well," he says, but their influence is based on more than fear. To listen to Maud and Thornton is to get an instant lesson in using common sense as a parent. For example, in the Humphries house there was never time for bitterness about real or imagined inequities in white-dominated America. "My children can do anything anybody else's children can do," says Thornton. "So they had better do it. The only way you can be inferior is to take an inferior attitude. We feel education is first, sports are second. No matter how tired you are, you study." When sleep does conquer Stefan, he will awake in the small hours, go into the family room, sit down at the long table covered with flowered oilcloth and study. He has been doing it for years; nobody tells him to.
When her kids were growing up, Maud would conduct a summer school in the Florida room. The children read the classics, prepared reports, listened to fine music, discussed Porgy and Bess. A copy of the selected poems of T.S. Eliot is on an end table looking well thumbed and perfectly at home. Jim Harrington, dean of students at St. Thomas, says the real labor in turning out a young man like Stefan "is done at home. It takes hard work, and I can assure you it's no accident that Stefan is what he is."
"But our home wasn't a hostile place," Thornton says. "Love was shown. The children didn't have to leave home to enjoy themselves. We didn't send them to the beach. We gathered up the rubber balls and put hot dogs in a bag and we all went to the beach."
While Stefan obviously was born to success, he may have had a special motivation. He has weak eyelids that give his eyes a dull, lazy, I'm-lucky-to-be-able-to-tie-my-shoes look. At age 6, he underwent surgery for this congenital condition, and the left eye was operated on a second time. His father believes that "Stefan's eyes—and especially the taunting from the other kids, who called him Sleepy—made him more determined to be bigger, stronger, smarter, faster than all of them." Stefan says, "God must have a reason for making my eyes like this." Perhaps God had a bit of deception in mind. Looking at Stefan, a rival lineman must wonder: Will this guy wake up by the time the ball is snapped? (Note to the Big Ten: he will—every time.)
Says Coach Smith, "There will never be—well, it will be very, very hard for there ever to be—another Stefan Humphries. When he leaves here, a serious part of what we've accomplished is leaving also. But the good thing is everybody benefited—Stefan, the coaches, players, students, teachers."
"When Hump showed up at St. Thomas he had all the tools," says Assistant-Football Coach Marty Poplar. "We just sharpened, refined, honed them." Another assistant, Jack Hanrahan, says the only hard thing about coaching Stefan was "if you have a super kid, you want to make sure the coaches don't settle for anything less than a super effort. We didn't and he didn't." When Stefan was on the team, St. Thomas went 9-3, 10-1, 9-2. A lot of the reason was the success of plays run over Hump, particularly 31 Trap and 25 Counter.
Scouts, who really shouldn't be drooling at their age, couldn't contain themselves when they watched Stefan's quick feet and balance. He is magnificent straight ahead and just as good laterally. He runs the 40 in 4.8, linebacker speed. Is there nothing really wrong with him? Are there no warts? Please tell us he bites his nails. Smith thinks it over and then says, "He does have a tendency to hold." But, of course, there are mitigating circumstances. "He has such rangy arms that he just gets tangled up, hooked onto people." And how about this for a negative: "If there is a mediocre player across the line from him, he will not punish him," says Smith.
How can Stefan fail? Schembechler, stricken by the question, looks as if he has just been caught wearing an Ohio State sweat shirt. "Fail? He can't," says Bo. "He is one of the joys of recruiting. One of the first things he asked me was if Michigan has an overseas academic program. As far as football goes, we didn't talk much about it. He has such great explosion off the line of scrimmage, he could be a fine offensive lineman, but our immediate needs are defensive. He's a good player and he may be a great one. He even likes to listen." Another evaluator of high school talent says, "The only way he can fail is if he finds Michigan winters are not what he had in mind." And what does Thornton expect his son to do at Michigan? "Everything his coach tells him."
Even though Humphries' arms might "get hooked onto people," he is seldom penalized. One of the three infractions assessed against him all last season came with 56 seconds left in St. Thomas' opener, against Miramar High. St. Thomas trailed 13-7 and had the ball, first-and-goal, on the Miramar six when Stefan jumped offside and botched the drive. But consider this: for the 10 previous days he had been in bed with pneumonia and was playing dead tired.
Stefan made no such missteps when dealing with the recruiters. He set tough criteria and stuck by them. "The school would have to have a very academic atmosphere," he says. "Very. It would have to have a football spirit. I mean very big on football. It would have to have an easygoing social climate." Stanford lost out because Stefan feels it is "a little bit too easygoing. Plus, I'm afraid of earthquakes." That left a tormenting decision to be made between Michigan and Notre Dame. "I couldn't decide," says Stefan. "Finally, I prayed. I said, 'God, just by chance, let's flip. You make it land on which school I should go to. Heads Michigan, tails Notre Dame.' " Perhaps for the first time in football history God was not an Irishman: heads came up three times in a row.
Stefan verbally committed himself to Michigan, but his heart belonged to Notre Dame. At one point he told Smith that he had changed his mind, that he was going to South Bend. Enter Thornton. Even though he personally favored Notre Dame, he sat Stefan down in the family room and, as always, set his son straight.
"You gave your commitment to Michigan and your word is all you have," he told Stefan. "Your word can't be bought or sold. I may suffer sometimes, but I stick by my word and so will you. So work it out. See, when I got married to your mother 26 years ago, I said it was for better or for worse and that's it. Sometimes it has been for the worse, but you don't walk away from your word. Your word is it." That was all Stefan needed to hear. He says now he decided to go to Michigan because, "I told Michigan I was coming and I wanted to be a man of my word."
Appropriately, Hump was also influenced by two non-football factors. First, he liked the idea that Michigan has a medical school on campus. When theology teacher Sullivan asked Stefan if he was going to play pro ball, he said, "Naw, I doubt it. I want to be a doctor." "You can take care of me anytime," said Sullivan. Perhaps more important, Hump thought his social life would be better at Michigan, which has many more black students than Notre Dame. "After all, I think college should be some fun," Stefan says.
Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine admits he wanted Humphries badly. "He's my kind of kid," says Devine. "He does things Heisman Trophy winners do." The Irish did get King, Stefan's friend and talented teammate, which prompted Hump to write Devine a long letter, asking him to "take especially good care of Cyrus." Another reason Stefan may have chosen Michigan is that he didn't want to overshadow his buddy in South Bend. And, says Stefan, there was one final factor: "When Coach Schembechler looked at me and said, 'I know Michigan is for you,' just the way he said it impressed me." McCartney, who headed the Wolverine recruiting effort, says, "Stefan's a complete young man. It's not often a player has that much talent and carries it that well. We're looking for immediate help from him. Why not? He has always demonstrated excellence, he has always risen to the occasion."
For all of Stefan's interests, nobody questions his love of football. "Sometimes when I'm playing, I think, 'Why am I out here beating up on guys? What's the purpose?' But I know why. I just love contact. And that team feeling." He fully subscribes to the philosophy of St. Thomas Kicking Coach Ed (Doc) Storey, who has written, "There is something in good men that really yearns for...needs...discipline and the harsh reality of head-to-head combat.... I believe that any man's finest hour is the moment when he worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious."
Dinner is over and Stefan gets up, clears his dishes off the table and rinses them. Of course. Now he is pondering the question of whether he can start as a freshman at Michigan. "The nice thing," he says, "is that it's not up to them whether I start, it's up to me." Good heavens, could it be that Stefan is, at last, a true student-athlete.
"Well, with anybody, you should temper your applause," says Father Kelly. "So far he has responded, but maybe he could have done more. He has the potential for failing, if only because the line between success and failure is so thin." So might you fail, Stefan? His mouth says "Yes," but his bloodline indicates "No chance."
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Humphries will graduate first in his class of 260 at St. Thomas Aquinas High with a 99.40 average.
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Workouts with Aquinas teammate Cyrus King help Stefan shape up to play at Michigan.
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Thornton and Maud demand—and get—excellence from Faye, Stefan and two older daughters.
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Stefan and friends Lennon Walker and Jackie Ragin had an eary time on a trip to Disney World.