‘He’s earned everything’
Wofford fullback Stoddard overcomes missing fingers to be a force on the field
By Todd Shanesy – Article from the Spartanburg Herald Journal
In youth league football, Andre Stoddard sensed that other kids — adults as well — were rudely staring at him with unabashed curiosity and sometimes even making shameful comments.
Stoddard was born without the three middle fingers on his left hand.
“I noticed people doing that,” Stoddard said. “But I always thought it was just because I wasn’t very good at football. Actually, I was terrible.”
People stare and talk about Stoddard now because he is so good.
Stoddard, a senior fullback at Wofford College, was preseason All-American and recently named first-team All-Southern Conference. The Greenville native (St. Joseph’s Catholic) has rushed for 912 yards this season and 1,737 yards in the past two seasons. His career total of 1,884 yards ranks among the top 20 in program history.
With 88 yards Saturday in a 2 p.m. second-round FCS playoff game at Kennesaw State, he would become only the fourth Wofford player to reach 1,000 in a season during the school’s Division I era. He would join Kevious Johnson (2004); Eric Breitenstein (2010, 2011, 2012); and Lorenzo Long (2016) in accomplishing that feat.
“That’s just a byproduct of playing and winning,” Stoddard said. “I just want to be a better version of myself and give this team an opportunity to compete for a national championship. I want to get better as an individual. Whether that means rushing for a thousand yards or not, I’m comfortable as long as I’m helping my team.”Stoddard is certainly a grown man now. He is 5-foot-10 and 240 pounds, with legs so powerful they move entire piles of bodies toward the first-down marker.
Wofford head coach Josh Conklin, a former college linebacker, was asked how he would try to tackle Stoddard.
“With a lot of people,” he said.
Stoddard’s body, even one like his, has taken a beating this season. That’s what happens to Wofford fullbacks as they absorb brutal hits on every snap, whether they have the ball or not. And when he is tackled, teams have gone with the Conklin line of thinking and done it with a lot of people. Stoddard didn’t play in the final regular-season game against Presbyterian and had 11 carries last week against Elon for only 44 yards, including 20-yarder, with a 17-yarder called back because of penalty.
Freshman fullback Nathan Walker has played a key role this season and especially during the past two weeks with a combined 175 yards on 22 carries. It could be that Stoddard plays a lesser role again Saturday with hopes of him healing up even more for a possible third straightquarterfinals game or beyond.
“Andre has just been a staple for us,” Conklin said. “He’s a guy who has that consistent mentality and attitude. He just goes about his business. When he gets his touches, he gets the big yards, the tough yards. … He doesn’t expect anything. He just believes that he is going to go out and earn it. In football and in life, he’s earned everything he’s gotten.”
That mentality certainly goes back to his youth days.
“I started playing when I was 5 years old,” Stoddard said. “I was always the smallest on the team. My dad is a huge football fan. We’d always play in the back yard. With me being so small, it took some convincing for my mom to let me play on a team. My dad and I finally convinced her. But I wasn’t very good. I played defense and I would just kind of get smacked around. At some point, I challenged myself to not get smacked around anymore.”
The challenge of having seven fingers inspired him to practice harder.
“It definitely forced me to work 10 times as hard as the other kids because I was being forced to make up for the lack of three fingers,” Stoddard said. “I’ve always convinced myself that it was just about putting in the extra time. It will never slow me. I know that whenever I put my mind to doing something, I can do it. I may have to do it a different way. But I can get it done.”