Ben Stansfield is kind of intimidating.
For one thing, his muscular six-foot eight-inch build and flowing blonde hair strike up inevitable comparisons to Thor or He-Man. The Govs big right tackle perpetuates that image by being the leader of a tough, aggressive offensive line that has led the Ohio Valley Conference in fewest sacks allowed each of the last two seasons. Few Govs, past or present, command the attention Stansfield can when stalking the sideline or merely entering the room.
The physical attributes would be enough to impress most people, but Stansfield stands out in the classroom as well. With a 4.0 grade-point average as a psychology major, Stansfield was awarded the Governors Club Academic Achievement Scholarship during Austin Peay’s April awards ceremony, which goes to the senior with the highest GPA in the athletic department. He’s received the OVC Medal of Honor each of the last three seasons, which is bestowed on the student-athlete with the highest GPA in a conference-sponsored sport.
On pace to graduate a semester early in December, Stansfield plans to take a semester off to work and study for the LSAT. If all goes well, the gentle giant stands to become one of the more intimidating constitutional lawyers anyone is likely to find.
“It’s a challenge and that’s pretty appealing to me,” said Stansfield. “I think our country is kind of losing focus on its roots. I don’t think people are being treated the way they should be by the government and that it has too much power.”
So how does a man with these kind of commitments on his time make due? The answer is surprisingly simple.
“I don’t get a lot of sleep,” said Stansfield. “I had to decide between football, studying or sleeping and I chose football and studying. It may not be the healthiest way to live, but it’s what I do.”
It’s been a long road from Ravenwood High School for Stansfield. While always an archetypal student – Alabama, among others, offered him a significant academic scholarship in high school – it wasn’t until he added roughly 50 pounds to his frame between his junior and senior year of high school that football was a reasonable collegiate option, with Austin Peay representing his only serious Division I offer.
Since he’s arrived on campus, Stansfield has seen his share of change and adversity. He’s had three position coaches in four seasons and welcomed a new head coach for his senior season when Kirby Cannon was hired to replace the departed Rick Christophel.
“All three line coaches (Steve Haywood, Tyler Trent and Jason Palermo) were completely different,” said Stansfield. “Being line coaches they all have striking similarities, but at the same time they couldn’t be more different as people. I’ve been really blessed to have great position coaches.
“I think Coach Cannon does a great job keeping us organized. There’s no wasted time with him around; he won’t do anything just to do it. He seems like a really smart guy and I’m glad he’s our coach.
As Stansfield’s current positional coach, Palermo has seen a lot to like of his young protégé in a year-plus of working together. Apparently, so did the OVC's coaches and sports information directors, who made him a preseason All-OVC pick at July's Media Day.
“He’s going to work to accomplish what he wants to get done,” said Palermo. “He doesn’t like to fail and if he makes a mistake, he understands it and wants to correct it.
“He’s got a good frame, obviously, and he takes well to coaching. He’s a guy we can count on consistently.”
The departure of four-year starter Jake Ryan also created a new opportunity under center, with Stansfield and his linemates now protecting junior pocket-passer Andrew Spivey and sophomore dual-threat Jacob Sexton.
“With Sexton being a dual-threat guy, there’s more possibility that we do something with the quarterback on the ground,” said Stansfield. “With pass-blocking I just try not to think about who’s back there and just do my job. We can’t afford to get lazy and think, ‘Oh, he can scramble so if I get beat, whatever.’”
Stansfield and the rest of the O-line faced a tall order against Tennessee and figure to be up against it again when they face Vanderbilt, Saturday, amidst a season-opening five-game road trip. After the bright lights of Neyland Stadium in the season opener, Stansfield thinks the Govs will be a better team the rest of the way.
“I think the atmosphere got to a lot of guys (at Tennessee),” said Stansfield. “We’d never played in front of anything like that before. We’ve got that experience now, so I think the jitters will be gone. We can’t have issues like we did at Tennessee – we shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. We’ve got to get better at finishing drives.”
The Govs open the 2013 home schedule with an Oct. 10 Thursday night tilt against Eastern Illinois. Stansfield and the rest of the senior class hope to send Governors Stadium out with a bang in its final season as presently constructed.
“We have to grind out the road trip,” said Stansfield. “That’ll make coming home and winning that much sweeter. I hope we can send the old stadium out on a good note.”