April 22, 2003
By Shannon McGonigle
Wide receiver Maurice Stovall looks back to his life last year and recalls feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. This year, having completed a successful first season with the Irish, the sophomore from Philadelphia has fewer doubts and more expectations.
“Last year I was unsure, and I didn’t know what to expect,” Stovall says.
“Now that I’ve been at Notre Dame for a year, I have a more positive attitude. I’m more sure, more comfortable, and more used to the environment, so I can just play football.”
If he’s planning on “just playing football” this year, fans have to wonder what words he would use to describe last year’s performance. Pulling in 18 catches for over 300 yards, and a Sports Illustrated cover later, he has certainly distinguished himself as one of the rising stars in the Irish lineup.
A breakout performance in his first college game against Maryland was followed by additional receptions against Michigan and Michigan State, where he tallied a career-long 44-yard catch, as well as his first career touchdown. Receptions in subsequent games brought him up to 312 yards on the season.
Stovall, despite becoming a freshman standout, nonetheless remembers the learning experiences he underwent. He recalls watching the veteran players last season, learning “to sit back and watch how things are, and not just acting upon them.”
Surely a player with a national magazine cover under his belt could have some impressive memories, but his defining moment from last season speaks to the journey he has made thus far in his college career.
“The first thing which made me feel that I arrived in the college football world was my first big hit in summer camp. I went out there on the first day with all of these guys who were much bigger and much faster. Everything’s quicker, and I wasn’t used to the tempo. I realized I was in college now and I needed to step it up quickly or I was going to get hurt,” Stovall says with a smile.
Stovall’s fellow sophomore receiver and friend Rhema McKnight recalls a similar learning experience.
“It was tough to start out. Coming in as freshmen, we didn’t know where we were going to be. We had to play as well as we could each and every day in practice, facing two of the best corners in the nation in Shane [Walton] and Vontez [Duff]. It was tough, but we got acquainted with the offense pretty well and learned it pretty quickly,” McKnight says.
Stovall and McKnight, who racked up nine catches for 91 yards last season, agree that personal pressure drives them to perform their best.
“The realization that college ball was a whole new game helped me when I was playing in the first game against Maryland in front of all of those fans. It was a big adjustment,” says Stovall.
His work ethic and personal expectations, along with the increased comfort he feels after having a year to adjust to the offense, inspire him to step up his level of play this season.
“I definitely have more personal and team expectations of myself, more so than the media or fans could put on me. I put pressure on myself to be better and to make plays for the team.”
McKnight agrees, saying, “It’s personal pressure. We shouldn’t take fan pressure too hard. We just want to come out, do well, play hard and make plays each and every day.”
Last year, Stovall and McKnight were finishing up their high school careers and wondering what Notre Dame would have in store for them. This year, their freshmen year performances hold great promise as they enter the 2003 season.
Stovall remembers, “Coming out of your senior year, you’re not sure which college is right for you. Lots of schools are throwing things at you. I’m very glad I picked Notre Dame out of all of that. It was definitely the right choice.”
“It turns out Maurice becomes a starter, and I become the fourth receiver, so I’d say it turned out well,” laughs McKnight.
Fans would agree with the two. Notre Dame is certainly the right place for them, and last year’s record speaks the truth. It turned out well.