"When I was 6 years old, I knew I no longer wanted to be a lineman. I wanted to run the ball."~ Stefan Ponder
Stefan Ponder, a rising high school freshman from LaVergne, TN is serious about academics and football. Boasting a 3.7 GPA, he endeavors to be successful in everything he does. We recently sat down to have a chat with this young baller. This blog post is dedicated to Stef telling his story and taking us on his football journey.
Interviewer: Stef why don't we start with you introducing yourself.
Stefan: My name is Stefan Ponder and I’m from LaVergne, TN, a small city right outside of Nashville. I am 14 years old and a rising 9th grader.
Interviewer: You are also a football player.
Stefan: Yes, I am.
Interviewer: So how long have you been playing football?
Stefan: I started playing when I was 5. My first team was the LaVergne Wolverines triple pee wee. Coach Luis Vera was my first football coach and Coach Jason Bush was my first lineman coach.
Stefan: Yes, I was an offensive and defensive lineman. They called us, "Big Men". I didn’t really like the position though.
Interviewer: Why not?
Stefan: Linemen don’t really get the same attention and praise that the running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers get. People forget the linemen are a big part of each play.
Interviewer: How did that make you feel as a player?
Stefan: I was aware of it. It made me feel a certain way. When I was 6 years old, I knew I no longer wanted to be a lineman. I wanted to run the ball. I told my parents and my coaches, but I don't think they took me serious. I started running the ball at after school care, every time we went outside from that point. I was determined!
Interviewer: That is really interesting. So you had already begun to see yourself as a running back long before it actually happened for you. Sounds like you have always believed in yourself. You have been playing football for a while. How many seasons is that?
Stefan: I have played a total of nine seasons. I had a knee injury when I was nine years old and I was out for that year. It was tough. It would have been ten seasons. I didn't sit out though. My coach made me the team manager that season. I love football and I wanted to be there with my team... games, practices, whatever, even if I couldn't play.
Interviewer: A knee injury? So you went back the next year right? How did you prepare for the upcoming season following your injury?
Stefan: I started training for the first time with Coach Gary Barnes, so he was my first trainer. Being a lineman at a young age, I was already a good size. I put on a lot more weight when I was injured. I needed to get in shape.
Interviewer: So is this when you started to transition, because you are definitely not a lineman now?
Stefan: Well, when I was ten years old, between May and November that year, I lost fifteen pounds. That is a lot of weight for a kid to lose. Coach Barnes had me on the track running in the beginning. I hated it, but my body responded to it. After a while, I started dropping the weight. I worked out with him the rest of that summer and the following spring. It helped me build up my endurance.
Interviewer: Did you make any changes to your diet?
Stefan: Yes. My doctor said I was becoming obese. I didn't know what that meant, but she told my mom that I needed to eat healthier and cut out breads and sweets. That was the same year I started training for the first time ever. I stopped eating muffins for breakfast and I alternated my bedtime snack between treats and fruit, until I was able to stop eating the treats all together. Since then, I have been able to follow any meal plan I put myself on. When I put my mind to something, I always get it done.
Interviewer: That's impressive. So how did things change during that season?
Stefan: When the season started, I set a mental goal to be the fastest lineman on the team. Everyday at practice, when the linemen lined up to run sprints, I always wanted to be first to cross the finish line EVERY TIME. It was the first of many goals I would set. By the end of the season, I was faster and had dropped that fifteen pounds.
Interviewer: So how long were you a lineman and what position did you move to when you got off the line?
Stefan: I was a lineman for six years. In 2016, when I was eleven, I moved up in division and had the opportunity to play for Coach Rod Sims. One day during practice with the linemen, Coach Sims came over and said I was too small to be on the line. That day he officially moved me off the line and into the tight end position.
Interviewer: But you are now a running back. How did this happen?
Stefan: I have to go back to Coach Sims because there is a story behind it. After the 2016 season ended, Coach Sims talked to my parents about me trying out for a chance to train with Ramsey Performance Training (RPT). I had never heard of this program, but I trusted Coach Sims so I told my parents I wanted to do it. I tried out, made the cut and that was the start of my athletic transformation.
Interviewer: How was it working out with RPT?
Stefan: Working out with RPT was TOUGH! It still is! The training is intense and fast and not everyone can handle that level of workout. I believe this program is developing me into a stronger, more versatile athlete.
Interviewer: How could you tell it was working for you?
Stefan: After my first season training with RPT, I went into the 2017 football season as a tight end. During the summer practice one day, our coach, Coach Craig Paxson had the tight ends to run the ball. Well, when it was my turn to run the ball, I simply did what I had been doing in after school care for years. I juked everyone. After a few reps, Coach Paxson moved me to the running back position.
Interviewer: Again, impressive! So basically, your athletic ability increased so significantly from that first season with Coach Ramsey and RPT, that you were able to transition into a skilled position before you even played in your first game of the season?
Stefan: Yes, that is how it happened. Since then I have just been trying to improve on my skill level with strength and conditioning, weight training and speed drills. I haven't always been a skill player like a lot of other RBs who have been in their position since they were 5 and 6, so I feel like I have something to prove. I want to be consistent and grow stronger as an overall athlete. In the past two seasons, I have played running back, full back, wide out, linebacker and defensive end. I am determined to not be outworked. No one gives me anything. I don't complain, I work and I work hard. I want to stand out and dominate.
Interviewer: How was this past season for you? What did you learn from the experience of playing middle school football?
Stefan: It was pretty good, we went undefeated for the season. I had the chance to play for Coach Dustin Timmons and the Nashville Catholic Panthers and our home field was at Father Ryan High School. It was cool! Now I know how it feels to play on the Irish field. One thing that I learned from this season was to ALWAYS thank my line. They were the truth! Another highlight of the season was having Coach Tony Carletello as my running back coach. He holds the rushing record for Father Ryan.
Interviewer: Good stuff! You are a rising freshman. So what are your goals going into high school?
Stefan: My first goal was achieved when I was accepted into Father Ryan. I have been waiting on this chance for three years. Now, my goals are to continue to do my best academically, on the football field and on the track. My goals also include successful college recruitment. I'm putting in work now for a full ride later.
Interviewer: Well Stef, you have definitely done well thus far and I can only imagine what the future holds for you. Continue to be the determined student-athlete you have always been, and continue to work hard and make strides toward making your dreams happen. If you could leave our readers with some advice as they set out in pursuit of their own personal goals, what advice would you give them?
Stefan: Some advice I would give is ask your parents to get involved in everything you are doing. You can be the hardest worker on the team, but if your parents aren't willing to make sacrifices, its going to be tough. Also, remember that hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.