WHAT'S GOOD? Lutheran North's Stephens is a Godsend
Shaun Stephens is a role model for all young coaches getting into the profession.
His story is insane and everything that is RIGHT with coaches, teachers, mentors, or educators.
Shaun Stephens played football at Waltrip, then Prairie View A&M, then dabbled a little in Arena Football in San Antonio and Omaha.
"I grew up in Acres Homes and you were popular based on what sport you played and how good you were," he laughed. "I sucked at basketball when I was little, so that wasn't my thing. Kids were playing football outside my apartments and I had never seen it before. I started playing and it became my thing."
He was all ready to play in middle school. He was pumped. His mom was not. She refused to let him play.
"I really wanted to play," he said. "I forged all the paperwork and raised enough money to pay for the school insurance. My mom was always wondering where I was. She went up to the school and caught me, but she saw me play and the rest is history.
Waltrip coach Milton Daily may not have built the Rams into a power, but he affected so many lives. He died a few years back, but Stephens lives out his testimony.
"I had a pretty rough home life," he said. "There were drugs around my house. I stayed in a shelter sometimes. I didn't even know what the SAT was or had the money to pay for it. Coach Daily did.
"Signing Day came and I had an offer from West Point, but I didn't really want to do that. I thought that meant going directly into to Army. I had nothing. Not offers. My career was over. He took me down to Prairie View and talked to the coaches and I signed with them. He went the extra mile with me and I've never forgotten it. That's why I do what I do."
Around 4 pm every day, Stephens leaves his day job and drives under an hour to Lutheran North to start practice.
His day job?
Stephens is an award-winning special education teacher at Houston Sterling, where he specializes in teaching autistic children.
He started at Next Step Academy, working with elementary and middle school children. He learned the techniques and strategies before moving to Sterling High School.
"It's so rewarding and fun," he said. "It fits my personality. It can be very physical because the students can be aggressive – biting, kicking and scratching, but I've learned from the best.
He uses many of the techniques from the classroom to the football field.
"Teaching and coaching is all about building relationships," he said. "Students and athletes have to trust you… they have to like you. Sure, you have to teach on both levels, but you have to make it fun as well. You have to be creative – you have to teach a little and then do karaoke or dance around.
"Same on the football field. It may be a chicken wings party or something as a reward for a big win or completing a goal."
Stephens believes it was divine intervention that got him into coaching. He was a volunteer at Waltrip High School and was driving around the neighborhood. He passed a field with kids playing football. It was Lutheran North. He pulled over and started to watch.
"I've lived in the neighborhood my entire life and probably passed the school 1,000 times," he said. "I don't remember ever noticing it. Coach came over during a break and asked me what I was doing. I told him I wanted to coach, and he said just bring over a resume."
Stephens brought a resume back the next day and was hired to be a volunteer assistant. He became the offensive coordinator before taking a job at Milby. He was unhappy there and circled back Lutheran North.
"I called the AD because I knew he was hiring a head coach," he said. "He was excited because he had just hired someone. We talked and hung up. No lie, 15 minutes later he called back. The new coach couldn't take the job and the AD offered me the job on the spot."
Over two years, Lutheran North has gone 7-3 and 6-3, reaching the postseason. They have not been without their challenges.
"We had seven kids entering last season with COVID," he laughed. "We ended up with 17 kids but had so many injuries. We played our third string QB (a freshman) and won district for the first time in 11 years. Then we won our first-round playoff game."
Stephens was recognized as a TD Club Private School Coach of the Year for his efforts. He is headed in the right direction on the field.
Off the field, he might doing more important work -- in the classroom and in the mentor field.
"Football is my passion and I put a lot into it," he reflects. "There was a time that football was like a God to me… an idol. Yes, I still love football but I know there is a bigger purpose. I'm getting kids closer to Christ, maybe kids who never believed in God."
Yes, Stephens is as competitive as they come and wants to win a state title someday.
But I think he already has… don't you?