By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
Junior linebacker Cody Stutts leads ACU’s defense in tackles, had been named Lone Star Conference Defensive Player of the Week and is a key part of the nationally ranked football team.
But before he was any of those things, he was a scared high school sophomore in Mesquite with no family and no place to call home.
Anyone who knows Stutts beyond his football statistics will tell you his dedication to hard work and devotion to letting God take charge in his life brought him to a place no one in his family has been before: working toward a college degree and developing a strong spiritual relationship.
The road behind
At the beginning of his sophomore year at Mesquite High School and in the middle of the Mesquite Skeeters’ 2001 5A Division I State Championship season, life as Stutts knew it changed forever.
His parents divorced. His mother moved to Missouri. His father couldn’t financially provide for Cody and his brother, Bobby. They were left to fend for themselves.
“I was scared,” Stutts said. “There were times when I had absolutely nothing and didn’t know what I was going to eat at night or where I was going to stay.”
But thanks to football, Stutts had little time to dwell on his problems off the field.
Stutts moved in and out of teammates’ houses and relied on close friends when times were hard. And it was through one of those friends, Bret Peterson, that he eventually found Christ.
Although Stutts had never gone to church growing up, he began attending Mimosa Lane Baptist Church and a weekly huddle group with some of his teammates at the home of Ernie and Allison Bryant. As time passed and Stutts grew to love the community he had at church, Ernie and Allison soon saw his need for a home and made the decision to make him a part of their family.
“He became part of my family,” said Ernie Bryant. “I treat him just like any of my other kids.”
At first, the transition was hard for Stutts.
“I felt like charity,” Stutts said. “I didn’t want any charity, I didn’t want to feel like I was lower than anyone else.”
But he soon learned that Ernie and Allison weren’t looking to give him a handout, but rather saw the potential he had to change his life.
“I had a stable food supply, a place to sleep every night, lunch money and all those things you need to make it,” Stutts said.
With all of the necessities taken care of Stutts was able to focus on the two most important parts of his life: God and football.
His next two years of high school, Stutts became a leader in both his youth group and on the field. Stutts overcame his difficult past and began the search for his next step in life and athletic career.
Light on the ‘Hill’
When assistant football coach Jerry Wilson saw Stutts on film, his intensity and vision on the field separated him from the piles of tapes from other prospective recruits.
“When I first saw him on film, I called him 15 minutes later because he was everything we wanted in a player,” said Wilson.
After the phone call Wilson’s first impression from Stutts’ athletic ability was reaffirmed by his humble personality.
years and I can tell when someone is interested or just pulling your leg,” Wilson said. “Cody was interested.”
Wilson was eager to meet the young linebacker in person, but no matter how much he wanted Stutts to visit the campus, Stutts had a prior commitment: being with his closest friends at the Mimosa Lane youth group’s Disciple Now.
Stutts visited the day after the trip was and instantly knew ACU was the place for him. Three days later, he chose ACU over the long list of interested Division II programs and signed his letter of intent to play football for the Wildcats.
“I dreamed of coming here after the recruiting trip,” said Stutts. “The opportunity to go to any college and the thought of playing college football was great.”
Neither of Stutts’ parents graduated from high school, and his older brother immediately moved into the workforce. So the junior history major became the first college-bound person in his family.
From Skeeter to Wildcat
Like any high school star forced to earn his place on a college roster, Stutts struggled with the transition to the next level. And like most college freshmen, the transition wasn’t easy.
“It was rough going from high school star to scout team dummy,” Stutts said. “You don’t know what college classes are like; all I knew how to do was to work hard.”
And work hard he did.
Stutts earned his keep and started as a true freshman in the last two games of the 2004 season. He finished with 39 tackles and had one sack and one interception, all while coping with the pressures of his new life at a rich private Christian college.
“When I first came in, just looking at everyone who had a brand new truck and money in their pocket while I was eating at the Bean everyday and walking everywhere, I had my doubts.” Stutts said.
But once again, he found his place in the camaraderie of teammates and guidance in father figures like Wilson.
“For the past two to three years, [Wilson] has been a grandpa-type figure that I can talk to about anything.” Stutts said.
Stutts soon fell in love with ACU and what it stood for, but no matter how comfortable he felt in his new home, his old one was still filled with memories of his past.
“All you want is to have a family again,” Stutts said. “I don’t like to go back in town; everything’s different.”
Everything is different now for Stutts here in Abilene, as he balances school and football and has become a leader on the undefeated Wildcats.
After college, Stutts wants to lead in a different way. He wants to follow in the footsteps of men like Bryant and Wilson that made an impact in his life and help other kids with troubled pasts make something of themselves.
“I want to teach and coach and help other kids get to college,” Stutts said. “I want someone to be able to come to me and for me to be there for them.”