Junior quarterback Charles Stafford is facing the biggest game of his young career Friday when the Tornadoes host Monroe for the Region 1-AAAA title.
Getting to know Charles Stafford:
The Dynamite “Half-Dozen” Q&A
Here are a half-dozen questions for our Dynamite Dozen players about their likes off the football field:
Q: What’s your favorite food?
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: “Taken. It’s a great movie.”
Q: Who is your favorite entertainer (movie star, comedian, singer etc)?
A: “Ben Stiller, because he’s so funny. He makes me laugh.’’
Q: Who is your favorite NFL player?
A: ”Champ Bailey, because I was a safety when I was little. Peyton Manning is my favorite quarterback.’’
Q: If you were stranded on an island, who would you want to be with you?
A: (Singer/actress/model) “Christina Milian.”
Q: Who is the person you owe everything to?
A: “My family, my whole family.”
He cried all the way to Georgia — hard, bitter tears.
And they’ve been smiling at Monroe High ever since.
Charles Stafford’s journey from Miami to Albany came out of nowhere, and at the age of 13, he was in shock and pain when he heard the news.
“My mother woke up one morning and decided to move here,’’ said Stafford, a Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback who has emerged as one of the best in Georgia in just three seasons at Monroe. “I hated to leave my friends and Miami. I cried all the way.’’
He’s only a junior but plays the game like he’s much older, and his maturity on and off the field has helped him adjust to his new life in the Good Life City.
“My mother wanted to leave there to give me a better life, and that’s why we came here,’’ said Stafford on Tuesday after practice. “She just wanted me out of there. She didn’t want me to get into any trouble. It wasn’t that my neighborhood was bad. I just think all of Miami is bad.’’
Stafford never was a troublemaker — unless you happened to be playing football against him.
He just loved the game, loved it all his life.
He had a tiny green football in his crib when he was a toddler, and his friends and family still tell the stories about how little Charles took that football with him everywhere.
“I carried it to church, carried it to the store,’’ Stafford said. “I always had it with me. People would say, ‘He’s going to be a football player.’ I carried that green football around with me until my mother bought me a bigger one when I was seven. It’s funny now. I had a little green football, and I ended up playing for a green team at Monroe.’’
He could be wearing a different color in college. Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Missouri head the list of big-time programs that are interested in Stafford. He’s got plenty of time.
“It’s amazing that he’s a junior,’’ said Monroe receiver Kevin Williams, who leads the Tornadoes in receptions. “He is the leader of this team. We all look up to him. I look at Charles and I say, ‘I will follow him.’ He’s amazing.’’
The Monroe coaches were pretty amazed when Stafford showed up as a freshman. It was impossible to believe that he played on the defensive line and at safety when he was younger. Finally, at the age of 12, Stafford went to his youth league coach and told him he wanted to play quarterback.
“He let me try out at quarterback, and I replaced the starter,’’ said Stafford, who learned his quarterback skills playing street ball on Northwest 84th Street. At 13 years old, the inner-city powerhouses at Miami Northwestern High and Miami Central High, two of the top programs in the nation over the past few years, were already interested in Stafford, who lived in the Carol City school district.
He scrambled away from both programs and showed up at Monroe, ready to throw a whole new passing route at Southwest Georgia.
“He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever had,” Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. “When he first came to us, we didn’t know anything about him. He told us he was a quarterback from Florida, and then he proved it.
“I was amazed at his arm strength and his accuracy from the beginning, but what was really amazing is how smart he was about playing quarterback. He was groomed for it.’’
Stafford never played a down on the junior varsity, and in the second game of his freshman season, Devine Noel, an electric quarterback who could run and throw, had to sit out the game. Truitt started his freshman from Miami.
It was the stuff of legend. Stafford’s first play from scrimmage was a 47-yard completion — and he didn’t stop there. He completed 11 of 18 passes that night for 204 yards and three touchdowns, including a 96-yarder in which he hit the receiver in stride. Monroe won, 32-6.
After the game, Stafford told The Herald, “I wasn’t nervous at all. I believe in my team.”
And they believe in him.
Stafford took over the team as a sophomore and led Monroe to the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs. He threw for 2,564 yards and 23 touchdowns and was the Region 1-AAA Offensive Player of the Year.
“Even Devine agreed that Charles should be the quarterback when Charles was a sophomore,’’ Truitt said. “We started him and moved Devine back to running back. He’s been our quarterback since.’’
Stafford almost pulled off a huge upset against state-ranked Gainesville and quarterback Deshaun Watson, now a junior, in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs last year. Watson, who has verbally committed to Clemson, was one of the most talked-about young quarterbacks in Georgia, but after Gainesville hung on to beat Stafford and Monroe, 16-13, everyone at the game was buzzing about Stafford.
He was recently invited to play in the Rising Seniors All-Star Game on Dec. 31 in Atlanta, where Stafford will have a chance to shine among the best stars in Georgia. Everyone in this part of the state already knows all too well about Monroe’s quarterback.
In August, everyone in the region was talking about Monroe’s chances of winning the title, and as Crisp County coach Lee Campbell said at the time: “Monroe is loaded and they’ve got that quarterback.’’
That quarterback wants a title — and he can take a huge step to winning one Friday night at Hugh Mills Stadium. The Tornadoes meet Cairo on Friday with the region title on the line. Ironically, Cairo is the reason Stafford ended up in Georgia.
“My mother came to Georgia because we have a lot of family in Cairo, lots of aunties, lots of cousins,” Stafford said. “I will probably have 100 relatives from Cairo at the game on Friday. They’re from Cairo but they’ll be cheering for me.’’
Everybody at Monroe cheers for Stafford, a quiet, easy-going student who is serious about football and academics. He has a 3.4 GPA and has thrown for 1,468 yards this season, and that yardage could be much higher. Because of one-sided games, Stafford hasn’t thrown a pass in the second half in his last two games, and he threw only four passes in the second half against Albany High because of a torrential downpour that grounded both teams.
He has completed 107 of 165 passes (64.8 percent) and 13 touchdowns and has rushed for four more. He’s most dangerous when he has to throw. In Monroe’s 17-14 region loss to Westover, Monroe dropped six passes in the first half and trailed 14-0, but Stafford threw for almost 200 yards and two touchdowns in the second half alone before losing on a 43-yard field goal.
Even when he is not throwing the ball, he’s the most valuable player on the field.
“He’s a special quarterback,’’ Williams said. “He’s so comfortable and easy to be around, and when things aren’t going well, he’s there to get you going and pump you up. He gets in your head to get the best out of you. He’s why the offense is so successful, and it doesn’t matter if things are going good or bad, he shows no emotion. He has that same look on his face all the time.’’
It’s a look of calm determination that inspires the other players. No one has time to get down when Stafford is always looking up.
“When the defense gives up a touchdown and we come off the field, he is the first one there talking to us,” Dynamite Dozen linebacker Anthony Smith said. “He’ll come right over and say, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m about to score. I’ve got your back.’ ’’
Monroe cornerback Jawaski Randle, who is one of the top defensive backs in SW Georgia, put it this way: “I’m glad I don’t have to play against him. He is so accurate. You can have the man covered, and he will throw it where only his receiver can catch it.’’
The Monroe receivers know that better than anyone.
“He’s perfect,” sophomore receiver Devonntavis Campbell said. “He puts the ball on the money, and he puts it there on time. He’s going to be the best in the state. And when he pulls the ball back, he’s like a magician. That’s what he is. He’s a magician back there, making plays. He’s special. He’s one of a kind.”
“You could call him a magician,’’ he said. “He is. And he has shown us we can count on him. He’s a great quarterback, and a great leader.’’
Stafford only wants to get better.
“He wants to be the best quarterback in Georgia,’’ Smith said. “He’s the first one there and the last to leave. He’s always trying to get better and make the team better. He’s such a great leader. Even the great players ... when they are in 11th grade, they’re not leaders. They don’t become leaders until they’re seniors, but Charles is a leader now.’’
Looking back, Stafford is glad he landed where he did.
“I love the people here,’’ he said. “They keep me going. The coaches, the players, the people in Albany all keep me going on the right track. They keep me motivated.”
Truitt knows how special Stafford is.
“The sky’s the limit for him,’’ Truitt said. “He throws such a catchable ball. He’s got a great arm, and he’s got accuracy. After he first got here and we saw him, we knew even then that we had something special. He has the talent, and Charles has that will within. You can’t coach that.’’
Then Truitt stopped and started again.
“He’s a great player, and even a better kid.’’
Stafford still remembers that long, tear-filled ride from Miami, and he still keeps in touch with a long list of friends from there. And, yes, he’s a big University of Miami Hurricanes fan, even though the Canes haven’t shown any interest in him.
His roots are in South Florida and those days of playing streetball on 84th Street, but his heart is in Albany.
“I hated to leave my friends,’’ Stafford said. “But my mother wanted a better life for me, and I’m glad she brought me to Albany. I love the people here. I love my life here. It is a better life for me here.’’