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Stafford perseveres to aid ISU rebuild

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Raise your hand if you’d play with a torn groin muscle.

Raise your hand if joining a program coming off a 33-game losing streak peaks your interest.

Raise your hand if playing college football was not only your dream as a high school freshman, but you then put in the necessary labor and dedication to make it happen.

Raise your hand, Tyler Stafford.

Now a senior at Indiana State University, the 2009 Mt. Vernon graduate has played a role in the Sycamores’ streak of three straight winning seasons, not a small feat when considering the year before Stafford arrived in Terre Haute, Indiana State had just ended the fourth-longest losing streak in Division I history.

Stafford’s journey to Vigo County was an arduous one.

As a ninth-grader at MV, Stafford clearly stated his intentions to then coach Doug Peacock: he wanted to play college football.

Peacock gave him a simple blueprint: work hard.

“He told me what I needed to do. The work I put in the weight room and the preparation for practice, that’s helped me since I got to college,” Stafford, a defensive lineman, said of Peacock’s guidance. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of time. He helped me get the weight training that I needed.”

Peacock, who retired from coaching in 2010 after 17 years at the helm in Fortville, said Stafford earned his way from Day 1.

“Tyler believed he had the ability to play at that level, so he went to work — literally hundreds of hours to prepare physically, but more importantly, mentally,” Peacock offered. “Everyone is good at the (college) level.”

Misfortune struck Stafford the spring of his junior year at Mt. Vernon. During 7-on-7s, he tore his right groin muscle. Originally diagnosed with a strain, Stafford went through four weeks of rehab.

The injury did not improve, so Stafford sought a second opinion. The second doctor said Stafford had a slightly more severe strain — or a slight tear — and he went through four more weeks of treatment.

After missing most of summer conditioning, camp and the preseason scrimmage against Speedway, Stafford decided he was going to play through the pain.

“I went to the doctor and said, ‘I’m not sitting out anymore,’” he recalled.

Eventually Stafford saw a groin specialist and underwent surgery, but not before going through his senior seasons of prep football and basketball.

“It was pretty bad,” said the former all-state honorable mention lineman. “I spent every day after practice in an ice tub to keep the bruising down and played through it.”

Some of the bigger schools recruiting Stafford — Ball State, for example — told Stafford his senior year production totals would determine whether he received a scholarship offer. Effectively playing on one leg, Stafford said his numbers declined as a fourth-year.

Indiana State wound up as his only Division I offer, and Stafford said he thought about playing Division II ball. Stafford’s father, Dave, gave him something to think about before a decision was reached.

“He said, ‘You can be a part of a change (at Indiana State),’” Stafford said. “He helped me out, and I love it here.”

The six-foot-3, 255-pound Stafford saw mostly special teams duty as a sophomore for the Sycamores, then worked his way into a passing-down rusher as a junior.

In Thursday’s season-opening 73-35 loss to Indiana, Stafford tallied two tackles and was credited with a half tackle for loss. He’s slated to split reps at defensive end with Conrrad Nicholls in his senior season.

Peacock said Stafford has gone from a “very good” player to a “great” player.

“That is not easy and takes a special person to do that,” Peacock explained. “Kids often think they are good enough. Tyler didn’t buy into that and has overcome adversity and obstacles. I can’t wait to see what he will accomplish next.”

After finishing 6-5 in 2010 and 2011, Indiana State went 7-4 last fall — the highlight a midseason win over eventual Football Championship Subdivision national champion North Dakota State in Fargo.

Off to a rough start in 2013, Stafford looks for his squad to rebound Saturday at Purdue (0-1).

“Thursday didn’t go as we planned, but lots of teams make their biggest improvement between Week 1 and Week 2,” he said. “We hope to go to Purdue and put on a better performance.”

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