When John Stephens walked into Bob Gaddis’ office last summer as a transfer student from Columbus North, the Columbus East coach wasn’t sure what to expect.
Sure, Stephens was big — 6-foot-4, 300 pounds — but he was a raw athletic talent.
This season, “Big John” has developed into a force on the Olympians’ offensive line. The senior right tackle is one of the reasons East finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and is 13-0 going into Friday’s semi-state battle with No. 7 Cathedral.
“I think he’s been a pleasant surprise in that he’s stepped in and become a starter,” Gaddis said. “You never know when a guy comes over since he hasn’t been in our program, but we’ve been very happy with his development.”
Because of the transfer, Stephens had to sit out of varsity competition last year. So he played junior varsity football and worked with the scout team in practice.
“Last year, as a practice player and a JV player, he didn’t get to play varsity, and he hung in there and had a great offseason,” Gaddis said. “He did all the things that it takes to be a player, and then, he got his opportunity to play, and he’s become part of a pretty good offensive line.”
Stephens, who said he transferred for academic reasons, got stronger in the weight room. He now bench presses 300 pounds.
“I knew I was a little bit behind everybody else because I couldn’t play on Friday nights, so I knew I just had to work that much harder in the weight room,” Stephens said. “My teammates have really helped me learning this offense and blocking schemes and zones. I’m pretty fortunate to have them.”
Stephens is part of an offensive line that includes senior tight end Cody Hempstead, junior tight end Jared Whiteside, junior tackle Seth Frownfelter, senior guard Rob McKee, sophomore guard Devorous Lewis and junior center Evan Kuhn. They’re all big, but Stephens is the biggest.
“He’s big,” McKee said. “He can move people. I wouldn’t want anyone else playing next to me.”
“He’s a big guy, and you can’t just manufacture big,” Gaddis said. “He’s gotten much better with his feet. He did a good job in the weight room in the offseason. I’m really happy for John because he could have just given up on football, but he didn’t. He’s had a really good year for us.”
Although Stephens was virtually unknown outside his own team after not playing last year, he’s attracted the attention of a few colleges with his play this fall. He is interested in a couple of schools, including Ohio Northern.
But even though Stephens wants to play on Saturdays next year, he loves the atmosphere of playing on Friday night.
“It’s a huge deal,” Stephens said. “I think it’s the best kind of football you can have, better than playing on a Saturday or Sunday. I think Friday night football is the best.
“It feels great,” he said. “It sucks I had to sit out a year and everything, but it’s totally worth it being able to play in semi-state and try to win one for East.”