Justin Stinson still recalls his first year playing football at Valley Christian like it was yesterday.
Stinson was part of a freshman team that went winless in 2016. As a sophomore, the Trojans won just three games.
“We wanted to change that right away,” Stinson said. “We wanted to be known as the guys who helped turn the program around. We started playing with a certain level of swagger.
“It helped us get to where we are now.”
Stinson and the rest of the 2020 class, along with new coach Kirk Sundberg, catapulted the Trojans from one of the bottom-feeders of the 3A Conference into a championship contender in just one season.
Valley Christian finished 9-4 last season and made it to the semifinals. The Trojans lost to eventual champion Northwest Christian, but it set them up for what has so far been a successful start to the 2019 season.
They started 4-0 through the first four games of the season, outscoring opponents 194-35. It wasn’t until they ran into Northwest Christian that the Trojans lost their first game. But Valley Christian remains as one of the top teams in 3A, with an explosive offense and lockdown defense.
There are playmakers all over the field for Valley Christian. The quarterback duo of Vinnie LaGatta and Jadon Hanzal might be the best in the state, let alone the 3A Conference. Running backs Tony Gomez Jr. and Kaden Majercak are two bruising backs, while Tanner Canfield, Andrew Hanzal and Ben Somora, among others, create matchup nightmares for opposing defensive backs.
Add Stinson to the mix and its clear to see why the Trojans win some games with ease.
“I think he is the best 3A corner,” Sundberg said. “That’s no knock on anyone else out there. There’s some incredible talent in this league and some of those guys can do really good things.”
At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Stinson has become Valley Christian’s special weapon on both sides of the ball and special teams. His versatility allows him to cover an opponent’s best player anywhere on the field. His physicality allows him to come down into the box to stop the run.
So far this season, he is one of the team’s top tacklers with 12. He’s also tied for a team-high two interceptions with fellow senior Shane Haagsma.
On offense, his frame helps Valley Christian spread things out. He is able to beat opposing defenders for jump balls or make a block downfield for one of the Trojans’ several players with big-play ability.
He’s not afraid to take on a supporting role whenever he is on the field, even if he is getting attention from several Division I programs.
“He’s totally selfless,” Sundberg said. “I mean, you think about a guy who’s really the only guy on our team with multiple D1 offers but he’s as eager to get out there and block as a wide receiver as anyone else on the team.”
Stinson has picked up offers from Abilene Christian, Northern Arizona, New Mexico State and South Dakota State. The offer from the Aggies was perhaps one with more meaning than the others, as it is where his father, Derrick, played running back for New Mexico State in 1987.
“It would be cool,” Stinson said about the thought of playing where his father did. “I’m going out there on Nov. 1 for an official (visit), so it will be fun to see what they have.”
Stinson has plans to commit after the season, as he wants to see if he has any more offers come in.
For now, he aims to perform his best both on the field and in the classroom. He also aspires to accomplish something in the weight room very few have done at Valley Christian.
“I want to get on the board in the 1,000-pound club,” Stinson said, referring to the combined max weight lifts in a variety of exercises.
Sundberg praised Stinson for his work in the weight room throughout the offseason, as he motivated and led the rest of his team. He referred to Stinson as a natural leader, and someone who gets things done at a high level no matter what it entails.
It’s for that reason that Sundberg believes Stinson and the rest of the 2020 class will leave a strong legacy on the football program and school.
That’s been a goal for Stinson since he stepped foot on campus for the first time in 2016.
“I want to be remembered for changing the culture here,” Stinson said. “We have a college board. I want people to be able to look up and see my name and remember me for my hard work.”
Valley Christian took on Yuma Catholic this past Friday, another contender for a 3A title. The Trojans’ schedule doesn’t get much easier from there, as they finish the regular season against four quality opponents.
Each player knows it will take their full effort to finish among the top teams in the 3A and make a run at a title. But that’s something they’ve all become accustomed to in their time at Valley Christian.
Everything they set out to do whether it be on the field, in the weight room or classroom is in honor of the school that means so much to them.
“I love Valley Christian,” Stinson said. “I wouldn’t go to any other school even if I had a chance to. It’s a great school, with great Christian education.
“There’s a great community around it that makes you feel like a family. You can tell we put God first in everything we do.”