Versatile Stites headed to Ottawa

By Steve Sell
February 12, 2014
Shane Backhus

McPherson High’s TJ Stites was the football version of the Swiss Army Knife for the Bullpups.

Need a running back? Stites was the man. Wide receiver? Stites was having an “all” year until he had to move to running back out of necessity. Return man, defensive back, kicker — you name it, Stites played it.

Stites has parlayed his versatility into a letter of intent with Ottawa University, coached by former Bethany All-American Kent Kessinger, son of the legendary Swedes coach Ted Kessinger.

Stites, 5-11 and 175 pounds, was the Bullpups’ Cinderella Man during the 2013 season.

He started the year at wide receiver, where he was quarterback Kyler Kinnamon’s most desired target. But when injuries to Jose Gloria and Ty Hart depleted the backfield, Stites moved to running back in Week 5. And as they say, the rest was history.

Stites, who had never played running back before, amazingly finished with 1,170 yards on just 167 carries, while scoring six touchdowns. His slashing style made it difficult for defenders to ever get a clean shot on him. Even with his workload, he still finished as the Bullpups’ top receiver with 20 catches for 303 yards. He had 1,876 all-purpose yards and also found time to kick 15 extra points and five field goals while also handling kickoffs.

Did I forget to mention he also returned 17 kickoffs for 403 yards?

And despite all of this, he was not a first-team AVCTL pick. Criminal.

MHS coach Tom Young said Stites was one of the great success stories of the season.

“He really came on,” said Young, who if he knew what he had in Stites as a running back might have started him there from Day One. “He really matured. We had to move him to tailback and he really surprised everybody, he really surprised us too as far as that goes. He had a big year. He’s also a pretty good defensive player.”

Stites likes the possibility of joining a team that’s always in KCAC contention.

“I think they’re going to be good,” Stites said. “I really liked the campus and the school and the players.”

Among the players for the Braves is McPherson High graduate Zach Lanning, whom Stites checked with when looking over the property.

“He said he really enjoys it,” Stites said.

Kessinger also is top class.

“I really like him, he’s a really cool guy and I think he’s a really good coach,” Stites said.

Stites said the Braves have him penciled in as a running back, but he knows that’s subject to change.

“I’ll play wherever they need me to play at,” he said. “I need to throw on a lot of weight and get faster, do some lifting. I’m really excited about it.”

Stites has not yet declared a major.