It was a bountiful day for the Stephenson family of Bountiful, Utah. And Geri Stephenson hopes more are on the horizon.
She is the mother of Shaun Stephenson, a Navy senior walk-on wide receiver who is the old man of the football team at the age of 24. He is a veteran of three years in the Marines who followed his older brother, Dion, into Operation Desert Storm. Only Shaun came back alive.
Nothing Shaun ever does will make his mother forget Dion, but he is trying to help her deal with the pain. What he did yesterday in Navy's spring game, with her in the stands, was the latest example.
After receiving the Admiral William Mack Award as the most improved player during spring drills, Stephenson demonstrated why he has blossomed into a starter by catching three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.
"I wish his brother could be here to see this," Geri Stephenson said, her voice choked with emotion.
When Stephenson came out of high school in Salt Lake City, respectable in baseball and swimming as well as football, he could have gone to a junior college on a scholarship, but his SAT scores were too low. He decided to follow Dion into Desert Storm.
"After my brother died, I came home, but I was bitter and wanted to return to Saudi Arabia," Stephenson said. "But the military says you can't go back to the same theater if one family member has already lost his life there."
During a family meeting with President Bush, Stephenson told ++ him he wanted to go to the Naval Academy. After a year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School, Stephenson arrived determined to play varsity football.
Trouble was, he weighed only 165. Too small, coach George Chaump kept telling him. For three years, he played with distinction on the plebe-jayvees and the 150-pound team.
When Chaump was fired after last season and Charlie Weatherbie was hired, Stephenson envisioned a new football life. It couldn't hurt that Weatherbie had come to Navy from Utah.
"Shaun is an exceptional fighter, a hard-nosed kid," said Weatherbie, confirming that Stephenson is the starting wide receiver. "He had a great day today, making a couple of key catches. The amazing thing is he played all spring with his broken thumb in a cast."
"I did it the first day of drills when I caught it in a guy's jersey," Stephenson said. "I'm grateful the new coach gave me a chance. know the varsity is where I should be. I knew I could compete at this level. Chaump just wouldn't let me."
In addition to Stephenson's play, Weatherbie saw other things he liked yesterday. No official score was kept, because Weatherbie mixed the Blue and Gold squads, but the offense showed him more than it had all spring.
Quarterback Howard Bryant ran for 57 yards and completed seven of 15 passes for 54 yards and the score to Stephenson. Another quarterback, Ben Fay, playing with an injured toe, was eight of 15 for 90.
Center Garrett Smith of Diablo, Calif., and defensive back Andy Thompson, of Ferndale, Wash., were named co-captains.