Tennessee QB transferring to Tarleton
By BRAD KEITH
Tarleton State added a big name to its 2010 recruiting class Monday when quarterback Nick Stephens announced his intent of joining the Texans as a transfer from Tennessee.
Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler was unable to confirm Stephens' commitment until official paperwork is received, but the quarterback was open about his plans Monday evening.
"I'm excited about going to Tarleton," Stephens said. "I can't wait to finish the semester (at Tennessee) and get to Stephenville so I can get to work."
Stephens started six games for Tennessee in 2008 and backed up Jonathan Crompton in 2009. He was working with the first team offense early in spring ball recently, but saw his reps dwindle as junior college transfer Matt Simms, the son of New York Giants legend Phil Simms, became more comfortable in the offense.
Stephens announced earlier this month he intended to leave Tennessee in search of an FCS or Division II school where he would be guaranteed playing time next season.
Tarleton seemed like a natural fit for the 6-4, 231-pound trigger puller, who had announced he planned to find a school within two hours of his home in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He also visited Texas A&M-Commerce.
"It was the comfort factor," Stephens said when asked why he chose Tarleton. "It's a feeling I can't really describe. It's just the way you feel when you know where you really want to be. I felt comfortable with the coaches and with all the players I met while I was there. They have a great group of guys."
Stephens says he visited Tarleton April 16-17 and was in attendance at the Texans' spring game.
"That was great," Stephens said of the spring game. "The weather kept them from doing everything they normally would, but it's obvious they have a lot of talent to work with. I can't wait."
Stephens passed for more than 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns at Flower Mound in 2005, numbers that helped him earn four-star status and the No. 11 ranking among 2006 pro-style quarterback recruits, according to Scout.com. He earned three stars and the No. 15 ranking from Rivals. In addition to Tennessee, he was also recruited by Mississippi, Michigan, Colorado, Illinois and Oklahoma State.
The recruiting marks are especially impressive considering the crop of signal callers in that class. Among them were Matthew Stafford, who was last year's No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, and Heisman Trophy winners Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow, who were the No. 1 and No. 25 picks in the first round of the 2010 draft last weekend. Former Stephenville star Jevan Snead, who won two Cotton Bowls as the starter at Mississippi before agreeing to a free agency deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday, was also in that class.
Stephens passed for 840 yards and three touchdowns for the Volunteers in 2008, earning an efficiency rating of 108.28 despite completing only 48.5 percent of his passes and tossing four interceptions. His best game came at Georgia when he passed for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
In limited time last fall, Stephens was 9-13 for 142 yards, a TD and an interception.
Tennessee lost head coach Lane Kiffin to Southern California in the off-season, and new Volunteers coach Derek Dooley was sorry to see Stephens go.
"Nick's in his fifth year and of course been trying to get on the field his whole career," Dooley said, according to a report published by cbssportsline.com on the Web. "(He) just felt like it was too risky to go through another season because he just wants to play. We hate to lose Nick, but I certainly understand."
Stephens hopes his experience at Tennessee helps him to succeed at Tarleton.
"Any experience helps, and even last year when I came in at the end of games I got to play on a big stage and I think that will help," he said. "The main thing is I just want to play football. I don't care if it's in front of 90,000 people or 1,000 people. It's just exciting knowing I'll get to play with a good football team."
At Tarleton, Stephens shouldn't have to worry about a quarterback controversy. Redshirt freshman Aaron Doyle appeared to be the leading candidate for the starting job at the conclusion of spring drills, but he hasn't taken a snap in a college game. The other Texan quarterbacks include junior Casey Page, sophomore Jake Fenske and redshirt freshman Jackson Crawley.
Scott Grantham was the starter at Tarleton for three seasons and led the Texans to a share of the Lone Star Conference championship last fall. He announced shortly after the end of the season that he would not return as a senior.
Former Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Nick Stephens said Monday he's transferring to Division II Tarleton State, in Texas.
Stephens said a review of his transcripts revealed he'll have two years to play. He left Tennessee this spring after falling behind Matt Simms.
"If anything I'm even more sure of my decision now," Stephens said. "A lot of things were happening around me. I had an unsettling feeling and I didn't want to have that feeling. There were some things that happened at practice that I don't really want to get into. But I needed to find somewhere else to play."
Stephens said he hopes to graduate in December and pursue a master's degree.
"I'll watch the Tennessee games when I can," Stephens said. "I still have a lot of good friends on the team that I'll continue to support."
Stephens played in three games for Tennessee last season and started six games in 2008, finishing with a career total of five touchdowns and four interceptions.
Joe Schad is a college football reporter for ESPN.