Ray Stem has always found a way to be around the ball in his football career.
The Phillipsburg senior played center as a Pohatcong seventh grader. He was a quarterback in ninth grade. He’s been a stalwart at wide receiver for the Stateliners.
And in last week’s 49-0 win over Franklin Stem showed last week what he can do with the ball in his hands as a quarterback.
With the Stateliner starters having earned a well-deserved quarter off, Stem, who had already caught two passes, stepped in for Jack Stagaard. He ran for 52 yards on three carries and completed 2 of 4 passes for 17 yards and a touchdown.
Not bad for a part-timer.
“I have always loved running the ball,” said Stem, who did look almost Cam Newton-esque as a running quarterback against Franklin. “I’ve always been fast afoot. When coaches wanted me to run the ball against Franklin my eyes lit up. I loved it. It was awesome.”
His path to being the backup quarterback was not the most direct.
“I was always a big kid growing up, so I played center,” said Stem, who is listed now at 6-foot, 192 pounds. “Then I got taller and I felt more athletic and I adjusted to a different body type pretty quickly. I played quarterback in ninth grade, but Jack beat me out, and then I didn’t play quarterback in my sophomore and junior year because I didn’t think it was good for the team and I didn’t want to take away from what I was doing at wide receiver.”
Heading into Friday night’s Mid-State 38 Delaware Division game at Hunterdon Central (7) Stateliner fans are more likely to see Stem at his usual wide receiver spot than at quarterback. But in a game where injuries are a fact of life, an insurance policy such as Stem at a key spot has to be comforting to those in garnet and gray.
“As a coaching staff, we all came to an agreement that Ray is a good option as a backup quarterback,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said. “That’s especially so because of what he can do with his feet playing quarterback; he’s dangerous with his feet and we felt we needed to use him. He gives us a different dynamic (Stagaard is a more traditional drop-back quarterback).”
Stem’s “shiftiness”, to quote Duffy, comes in especially handy in practice.
“Ray gives us great looks on the scout team,” Duffy said.
As much fun as Stem has backing up Stagaard, he knows where his bread and butter lies.
“I focus on wide receiver the most,” said Stem, who has three catches for 18 yards this season; in 2017, he made 18 catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns. “In the offseason, I worked on getting stronger, running better routes and being more effective up the field.”
Duffy likes what he sees.
“I have seen Ray get a lot more comfortable from junior to senior year,” the Stateliner head coach said. “He’s more sure-handed and more confident in himself. He has always had a knack for being in the right place at the right time as a receiver.”
Stem would love to be in the right place at the right time on one very special day.
“I know it’s a long way away, but I’d love to score against Easton,” he said. “I have been dreaming about doing that since I was a little kid going to all the games.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.