By Rob Ludwig
Corsicana Daily Sun
Standing 6-foot-1, Navarro College center John Studdard should feel cheated by the gene genie.
After all, he has six relatives who stand at least 6-4, four of whom starred on the offensive line at the University of Texas and three who played long, distinguished careers in the National Football League.
But that’s what you get when dad is 6-6 and mom is 5-1.
“I don’t have any control over my height, so I make the most of what I have,” said Studdard, who will start at center for the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday against No. 20 Georgia Military in the Heart of Texas Bowl in Copperas Cove. “I just go out there and be the best offensive line technician I can be and the success will come for me and for my team.”
Since Studdard beat out eventual Division I Florida International University signee Delmar Taylor three games into his freshman season, the Bulldogs have gone 19-3 and have led the NJCAA in rushing for much of 2012, racking up more than 310 yards per game.
It’s interesting to scan Navarro’s offensive line as it approaches the line of scrimmage this season. With Aleon Calhoun, Mitchell Bell, Zach Fondal and Carter Wall, who all stand at least 6-4, you see a significant dip when you see the middle of the very productive Bulldog offensive line.
But Studdard has been the proverbial lynchpin to that group, calling the blocking schemes and making adjustments prior to the snap. Studdard quickly caught the eye of Navarro Offensive Line Coach Cody Crill.
“John is really smart out there,” Crill said. “The center has to make a lot of calls and he’s able to do that easily and rarely makes a mistake. There’s not a better center I’ve ever coached.”
The feeling is mutual. Studdard credits Crill’s ability to ready the Hutto High School graduate for college level competition, often against significantly bigger foes.
“(Crill) is the best coach I’ve ever had,” he said. “He knows a lot about the game and he’s great at transferring that knowledge to us.
“If I did not have the best technique, I was not going to have a chance to play against those bigger guys. Coach Crill helped me get where I needed to be.”
For the remainder of Studdard’s family, there’s rarely a holiday table discussion about playing undersized at their respective former offensive line positions.
It started with great uncle Howard Fest, who starred at Texas and then played 12 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers while having the nickname “Mr. Consistency.” Uncles Claude and Gary Fest also played at Baylor and Texas A&I, respectively.
John’s father Les Studdard played at Texas and then with the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Oilers. Uncle Dave Studdard graduated at UT and then played for the Denver Broncos from 1979-88. Uncle Robert Studdard played at Texas before blowing out a knee.
And there’s cousin Kasey, son of Dave, who starts on the offensive line for the Houston Texans who at last check are 10-1 and homing in on home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
So did John ever feel genetically shortchanged?
“No, not really,” he said. “It’s just how things worked out with a 6-6 dad and a mom who is 5-1. I guess I got caught a little in the middle. But I’m still making the most of my opportunities.”
With such a strong University of Texas lineage in the family, it was a given that John would grow into a stellar high school offensive lineman and then follow a worn path of the Fest and Studdard boys onto the 40 acres in Austin.
But John suffered a significant injury to his L4-5 vertebrae as a junior guard at Hutto. He missed all but two games of his junior year, falling off recruiters’ radars. Except for Navarro’s Nick Bobeck, who watched film of an excellent senior year and offered Studdard.
“I was out hunting a few days before Christmas when (Bobeck) called,” Studdard said. “I was excited about the opportunity because I knew how high a level of ball Navarro plays every year.
“Sure, there was pressure on me to go to Texas and to play at Texas. That’s always what I was going to do. But then the back injury and not being the ideal size to play there and that just didn’t work out. But my dad has been great. He encouraged me to go wherever I want and not to feel the pressure to fill anyone’s shoes in the family. As long as I’m happy and somebody else is paying for my college, my dad was going to be happy for me.”
Now recruiting is on again. Studdard has had significant looks from several FCS powers seeking a smart, proven center, but he’d like to play at Sam Houston State, where younger brother Jacob is a redshirt freshman linebacker.
“There are certain places I would rather go, but Sam Houston is on top of my list right now,” he said. “I’m always going to be a big Texas fan, but I just want to find a place right now that will make me happy on the field and allow me to get a good degree. That’s all a guy could ask for.”