Stapleton making most of final season with Panthers

It was supposed to be just another week of life as a college football player for Chris Stapleton.

Go to practice, attend classes, sit through film study sessions and then play a game on Saturday afternoon.

But with Hurricane Matthew and all its might headed straight for the Atlantic Coast of Florida, the schedule changed drastically for Stapleton and the Florida Tech Panthers in early October.

“We had been on the same schedule for 10-11 weeks and for us to have to turn off the switch was just surreal,” Stapleton said. “We were told to go home and be with our families. It definitely makes you sit back and look at the bigger picture. Football wasn’t as important.”

Stapleton didn’t end up making the trip from Melbourne all the way back to his hometown of Navarre the week of Oct. 8. Instead, he went up to the Tampa area to stay with his sister.

Looking back on it now, the former Raiders football standout believes the hurricane turned out, strangely, to be a blessing in disguise.

“In my entire time of playing football here I had never had a bye week,” Stapleton said. “Having that weekend off was like having a bye. It gave me a chance to rest and heal up and spend time with family.”

Nearly a month has passed since the hurricane and Stapleton and the Panthers are in the midst of a successful season.

They are 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the Gulf South Conference. Stapleton, as has been the case throughout his collegiate career, is a leader on defense. The redshirt senior linebacker is the top tackler on the team with 52 tackles. He’s also picked off two passes and recovered a fumble.

“I’m doing well and blessed to have this opportunity to play college football,” Stapleton said. “I worked hard over the summer and tried to improve as a player, especially with my mobility in space, and I’m happy with how things have turned out.”

Stapleton wasn’t sure what to expect when he first arrived on campus because Florida Tech was just starting up as a program.

“My expectations really weren’t that high,” Stapleton said. “It’s sad to say, but I thought to myself when I signed here that I may not win a game my entire career.”

Read more  in the Nov. 3 edition of Navarre Press or subscribe online here.

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