High school: West Hall
College choice: Alabama State University
Notable: Threw for 961 yards and 11 touchdowns during an injury-shortened senior year after throwing for 2,331 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior and 2,656 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore. Leads the No. 2 Spartans basketball team in scoring (19.5 ppg), rebounding (12 rpg) and steals (3 spg). Averaged a double-double (17 ppg, 10.5 rpg) as a junior.
It’s a decision most high school athletes would love to make, and for West Hall High senior Shunquez Stephens the choice wasn’t easy.
A star on both the football field and basketball court, Stephens chose the “sport he loves over the game he plays” by signing a national letter of intent to play football at Alabama State University.
“It was a hard decision,” Stephens said. “I’m going to miss playing basketball, but I decided football was my sport.”
His choice was difficult in large part to his athletic ability and skill in both sports. Plagued by a thigh injury during his senior season, Stephens finished the year with just 961 yards passing and 11 touchdowns. During his sophomore year, he threw for a career-high 2,656 yards and 24 touchdowns, and he followed that with a 2,331-yard, 24-touchdown season his junior year.
He’s just as talented on the basketball court.
“He’s the total package,” North Hall boys basketball coach Benjie Wood said. “He rebounds well, he shoots the ball well, and from a North Hall perspective, we’re glad he won’t be around any more.”
Just one look at his statistics will back up that statement.
This year, he leads the Spartans in scoring (19.5 points per game), rebounds (12 per game) and steals (3 per game), and he’s a main reason why West Hall has risen to No. 2 in the Class AAA rankings and poised for a deep run in the state tournament. Colleges, specifically South Carolina-Upstate, began to court Stephens as a basketball player following his junior year when he averaged a double-double (17 ppg, 10.5 rpg), shot 45 percent from 3-point range, and was The Times’ Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“Basketball is something I happen to be good at,” Stephens said. “Football is something I’m really good at.”
Stephens’ ability has been present since he first stepped on the field as a freshman quarterback, but his best season came during his team’s worst: the 0-10 season two years ago.
As the loses started mounting, so too did his numbers. His playmaking ability kept the Spartans in several games, but didn’t lead to wins, and he admits that his desire to play the game waned during the season.
“I thought about (why I was playing) a lot,” he said. “But then I realized that it’s the game, and it’s going to have it’s ups and downs.”
With the football program floundering and the basketball program rising — the Spartans reached the round of 16 in his sophomore and junior seasons — it would have been easy, and some would argue understandable, for Stephens to quit the game he loves and focus on basketball. But despite the losses and the injuries, which caused him to miss the beginning of the last two basketball seasons, he kept pursuing his goal of playing college football.
“This year was real tough physically and mentally,” Stephens said. “I didn’t have the season I expected, but we won a couple games, so that was good.”
His senior season was also tough because for the first time in his high school career he didn’t just play quarterback.
Knowing that some colleges were interested in him as an athlete, Stephens played defense and tight end last year.
“There were a lot of coaches that liked him at different positions,” West Hall coach Mike Newton said. “I think he really wanted to play quarterback the most; that’s why he chose Alabama State.”
That’s also why Alabama State chose him.
“I wasn’t set on being a quarterback; I was willing to do whatever,” Stephens said. “Fortunately, they saw a YouTube video of mine, told me I had some good skills at that position, and they could really use me.
“Alabama State showed that they really wanted me, and when I went there, I fell in love.”
But while the Hornets were knocking on his door with a football scholarship, South Carolina-Upstate was in his ear trying to convince him to play basketball. Stephens said the school “tried the hardest” to get him, and even though he turned them down, their interest convinced him that maybe basketball wasn’t out of his future quite yet.
“I talked to Alabama State’s assistant basketball coach and he said I could possibly try out,” Stephens said. “I’m pretty sure I could make it, but it all depends on how the football season goes.”
As tempting as it is to become a two-sport player in college, Stephens is focusing on the sport that got him to Alabama State, which competes in the Southwestern Athletic Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision.
Stephens said Alabama State had 14 freshmen play last year and he could earn a starting spot if he does what he knows he’s capable of doing.
“I’m going to have to train hard, harder than I’ve ever trained to get used to the speed of the college level,” he said. “I’m going to have to get bigger, stronger and faster because everyone there is bigger, stronger and faster.”
Not only will Stephens have to adjust to the difference between high school and college football, but he’ll also have to get used to living away from home and attending a Historically Black College and University.
“It’s going to be different, I’m looking forward to it,” Stephens said. “It’s good to know where you come from, and it’s going to be an experience I can’t wait to take.”