Brown, Stinson grew up as friends, rivals

May, 23, 2014
May 23
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On the morning of their first rookie minicamp, two Arizona Cardinals rookies have an old coach in common who remembers when they were just trying to make the team at South Dade High School in Homestead, Florida.

Ivan Chicola coached Cardinals rookie defensive end Ed Stinson for his two seasons of high school football and he was the varsity defensive coordinator during John Brown's one year on junior varsity when the speedster -- who wasn't that fast back then -- was just a freshman.

Chicola nearly inherited a team that would've included two future NFL draft picks, but a varsity wide receivers coach told Brown that he was too small to play on the varsity squad. So, Brown transferred to rival Homestead High School.

[+] EnlargeEd Stinson
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinEd Stinson was converted to a defensive lineman in high school.
"He's just making plays for the rest of his high school and collegiate, and now professional life," Chicola said.

Actually, Chicola was close to not coaching Stinson either.

Stinson came out for football late as a freshman and was lined up at tight end. He had the size and speed, but was lacking one major component: hands. He didn't play much that season on junior varsity and sat out his sophomore year while he continued to be the basketball team's center.

In the fall of 2007, Chicola was named head coach at South Dade and one of his first projects was to persuade Stinson to come out for football again. With a little convincing -- and the realization that a 6-foot-4 high school center wasn't likely to get a college scholarship -- Stinson picked up right where he left off on the gridiron, Chicola remembered.

But like the JV coach did, Chicola also put Stinson at tight end.

"That lasted about one month and we figured out that he was a defensive lineman," Chicola said. "He was never scared of contact."

Both of Chicola's decisions -- to take him off of tight end and make him a defensive lineman -- were later validated. In one high school game, Chicola remembered an opponent's offense running the option. Stinson was supposed to chase the quarterback if he kept the ball or find the fullback if it was handed off. Stinson brought down the fullback, who didn't have the ball. So Stinson found an angle toward the quarterback and chased him down, forcing the quarterback to pitch. To this day, Chicola still looks back at marvels at Stinson's play.

That play went on Stinson's high school highlight reel and helped him secure a scholarship to the University of Alabama. It was when Stinson was with the Crimson Tide that Chicola was validated again. In 2010 against the University of South Carolina, Alabama coach Nick Saban called for a fake field goal. The pass went to Stinson, who mishandled the pass before it fell incomplete.

"So, I felt a little bit smart about my decision there to move him to defense," Chicola laughed.

Even though Chicola didn't coach both Stinson and Brown, the two were childhood friends, growing up in the low-income neighborhood of Homestead.

There wasn't much to do for Brown and Stinson, so they, like most of the kids of Homestead, played a lot of street football which turned into Pop Warner in the fall as they got older. Wrestling and track were big at both high schools.

"It's the country. It's not like an inner city," Chicola said. "It's a poor, country, run-down area."

But it's an area that bred speed.

For years, Brown, who ran a 4.34 at the NFL combine in February, wasn't the fastest kid in the neighborhood. Or the second fast. Or even the third fastest.

"I'm telling you, when he was younger, he wasn't fast at all," Stinson said. "When he was younger, he was the slowest kid on the block."

Chicola wasn't surprised to hear that. He wouldn't have been surprised to hear Stinson think he was faster than Brown, who was nicknamed "Smokey" in high school.

"He was telling the truth," Brown said. "I was the slowest, the last one to get picked but I always was able to run routes catch the ball. I guess in due time I put the extra work in and my speed developed my senior year in high school."

Chicola and South Dade saw it first-hand.

"John left us and it really hurt," Chicola said. "John's the type of kid we would like to keep around."

For Chicola, who'll enter his eighth year as South Dade's head coach in the fall, getting Stinson to college was the goal. And once Stinson was there, Chicola just wanted him to stay in school. He saw it happen the other way too many times. Kids with unlimited football potential would get through their first season of college and buy a one-way ticket home for spring break. Chicola's heard all the excuses: Work. Money. Girlfriend. Family.

"Let's just get him out of the neighborhood, get him into college and get him a degree and anything that happens after college is like hitting the lottery," Chicola said.

He knew Stinson had the size and skill to play college football but after watching him at Alabama the same could have been said for a shot at the NFL.

"They bulked him up," Chicola said. " ... He was 220 in high school. I thought he'd be a 4-3 defensive end. He got up in to that 280, 290 range and Saban made him a five technique."

Chicola was watching the combine in February when he heard a familiar name. But, he thought, was it that John Brown? The same John Brown that he watched sprint down field at Homestead?

After a few text messages to former players to confirm that the player running a 4.34-second 40-yard dash was the former South Dade freshman, Chicola just marveled at the TV. He knew then that Brown was about to be drafted.

Chicola won't take credit for having two players in the NFL. Brown was a Homestead kid. Stinson, however, is his.

"When he got drafted, parents were calling me and other coaches were texting me, 'Hey your boy Ed got drafted,'" Chicola remembered. "It was the kind of feeling ... you put him into college is one thing but to put him in the pros? That's a kid that you coached and you're going to be seeing him on Sundays.

"First kid I've coached that you're going to see playing in the NFL."

Josh Weinfuss

ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter

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