Photo: Pictured is 2008 Hokes Bluff High graduate Tyler Stovall during the Eagles’ 2007 football season. (Alex Chaney)
By Phillip Marshall/auburn.247sports.com
His teammates call him “Papa Stove.” They sometimes they even call him “Coach.” Tyler Stovall, Auburn’s 28-year-old holder, welcomes his place as elder statesman.
“It’s funny to be a 28-year-old man and be called Papa,” Stovall said a few days before the No. 7 Tigers’ 34-27 loss to No. 12 Central Florida in the Peach Bowl last Monday (Jan. 1). “It’s something I embrace. I don’t take it lightly. I have a purpose on this team other than just being the holder. It’s to represent my faith in the right way, and also represent what it means to be a man.”
The 2008 Hokes Bluff High School graduate has been the AU holder for four seasons as kicker Daniel Carlson has shattered SEC scoring and kicking records.
According to Carlson, those records belong to Sto-vall as well.
“As far as I’m concerned, every kick that I’ve made, he’s just as much a part of,” Carlson said. “We’ve broken SEC records, and he’s been a part of every single one of those. He’s definitely the best holder in SEC history, and he should go down in the history books.”
But sure and quick hands are only part of Stovall’s unique football story. It is a story of triumph over disappointment, a story of living not one dream but two and of happily sharing with his teammates and others the lessons learned along the way and the blessings that came with them.
From the time he was three years old, Stovall do-minated in every sport he tried. He played with older boys because he was too good for those his age. And he was better than the older ones, too. At Hokes Bluff, Stovall had perhaps the most dominant baseball career in state high school history, setting no fewer than 10 state records as a dominating left-handed pitcher and hitter. He helped lead the Eagles to state baseball championships from 2003 to 2008 under head coach Mike Estes, a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Stovall was a two-time Class 3A Player of the Year and won the ASWA Mr. Baseball award following a senior season that saw him go 14-1 with 198 strikeouts and a 1.00 earned run average. He also batted .531 with seven home runs, 14 doubles, five triples, 49 walks and 36 RBI.
Stovall holds state records for career wins (54), strikeouts (683), career doubles (95), single-season strikeouts (227 in 2007) and single-season wins (18 in 2007). He finished his high school career with a 54-5 record and an 0.94 earned run average.
“Each team had a little different personality – either a lot of jokers, a laidback team or some real serious types,” said Stovall in a previous interview with The Messenger. “Coach Estes could pinpoint that personality and work off of it.”
Stovall was a quarterback and an all-state punter for the Eagles’ football team. In basketball, he would jump center and play point guard. For as long as he can remember, Stovall’s dreams were to play football at Auburn, where his father Brian was a walk-on in 1979, or play baseball for the Atlanta Braves. He signed to play baseball for Auburn, passing up opportunities to play quarterback at Jacksonville State.
But as a left-handed pit-cher who threw in the mid-90s and had a devastating curveball, Stovall’s career path was soon clear. He was the 64th player chosen in the second round of the 2008 Major League Baseball draft, going to the Braves in the second round. He said he’d have to have $750,000 to pass up playing Auburn. The Braves paid up.
For five seasons, Stovall led every league in which he pitched in strikeouts. He pitched for the Rome (Ga.) Braves from 2008-2011. But the walks began to pile up, too. And in 2011, his dream of playing baseball for the Braves was over.
“That was one of the toughest times of my life,” Stovall said. “All I knew was baseball to that time. I liked other sports, too, but I knew I was going to be drafted pretty high in baseball. When it ended, I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Strong in his faith, Sto-vall believed he would find the answer, and by the fall of 2013, he was an Auburn holder. He was redshirted along with Carlson but star-ting in 2014 they were a record-breaking team.
Stovall and his wife, Kri-sti (Doss) Stovall, sought to make a difference in every way they could.
“Kristi and I try to provide a fun family atmosphere for the guys, a place they can come and relax,” Stovall said. “We cook them meals, and a home-cooked meal away from home means a lot sometimes. Every Tuesday night and sometimes Thursday nights, Kristi will cook up a good meal and we will invite a bunch of the guys over. It’s fun. I enjoy being kind of in that role model spot on the team and someone they can look to when they are down.
“I try to let them know they can get through it, because I’ve been there and done that.”
High school sweethearts in Hokes Bluff, Tyler and Kristi will celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary on Jan. 8. Both were three-sports athletes for the Eagles.
While Tyler was pursuing his baseball dream, Kristi was getting her degree in education from Jacksonville State. Tyler earned his degree in business and is pursuing a master’s degree. Kristi works as an academic mentor in the AU athletic department and uses her degree to teach classes online.
“It’s been super fun,” Kristi said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of the players. I consider them family.”
And the players, Tyler said, consider her family, too.
“She is definitely the be-tter half of me,” Stovall said. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do. The guys know her and have gotten to love her, too. She’s always there.”
Brian and Holly Stovall raised their three children to work hard to succeed at whatever they did. Quiet and unassuming, from the start Tyler competed fiercely in whatever sport he tried and later in the classroom. Tyler’s father saw it early.
“He started playing T-ball when he was 3,” Brian Sto-vall said. “He was such a quiet kid. He wouldn’t say anything.”
But after catching a line drive and doubling a runner off first base, Tyler Stovall couldn’t stay quiet when the T-ball umpire allowed the runner to remain.
“He’s out!” Tyler told the umpire. The umpire explained that Tyler was correct but that they were playing for fun.
“Tyler threw his glove down and went to the dugout,” his father said. “He said ‘If we aren’t playing by the rules, I’m not playing. This is stupid.’ I’m begging him to go back in, but he wouldn’t. When was his time to bat, he hit it over everybody’s head and got a home run.
“Tyler was always the best. When he was 3, he was the best one out here. When he was 5, I asked him if he wanted to play T-ball. He said no, because they didn’t keep score. I asked them if he could play on the 7-8-year old team, they said they usually didn’t do that but he could try out. He was by far the best one out there.”
And so it was all the way through high school.
“He always played way ahead of his age,” Brian Stovall said. “He made 10-year-old all-stars when he was 8. I’d never heard of travel ball. He played for teams in four states. He played every sport. We tried to do soccer because his mother wasn’t ready for him to play football. The first half he scored four goals. After that, he said ‘Take me home. This is stupid.’ That was the end of his soccer career.”
After rewriting the state record book as a hitter and pitcher, Tyler Stovall was the state’s Mr. Baseball in 2008. Butch Thompson, now Auburn’s head coach and then an assistant, offered him a rare full scholarship. But the lure of professional baseball was too much.
And then it was over. As he pondered his future, Sto-vall thought about one of his favorite Bible verses, Philippians 4: 6-7.
The verse reads: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ.”
“I have a peace that no matter what curveball I get in life, I’m going to be OK,” Stovall said. “I have a peace in knowing that.”
In 2012, Stovall was in Bloomington, Ill., playing for the Normal CornBelters in the independent Frontier League when his phone rang. The call was from Paul Gonnella, the player personnel director at Alabama. Gonnella wanted to know if Stovall would be interested in walking on as a punter.
Stovall and his family visited and went to some Alabama games. South Car-olina soon called, and he visited there, too. Finally, he got the call he wanted from Auburn.
“My dad graduated from Auburn and my sister graduated from Auburn,” Stovall said. “… Auburn called and the rest is history. The Braves had to pay for my college degree. I had two years to use that or it would go away. When I found out I had this opportunity, it definitely made it easier.”
Stovall’s main duty has been to hold for kicks, but he’s been a scout team quarterback, wide receiver and special teams player. He was the No. 3 quarterback when Auburn played Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl at the end of the 2015 season.
Being part of Carlson’s record-breaking career has made it all the more special.
“I had a strong work ethic through my pro time, and I see that in Daniel every day,” Stovall said. “It was fun to be part of working with somebody that took their job seriously every day.”
Hokes Bluff High head football and baseball coach Mike Robertson recalls Sto-vall as an outstanding player and an even better person. Robertson also coached Kristi as well as Stovall’s brother, Brian Jr., and sister Katie.
“Tyler was a good player and a good student and a good leader who excelled at whatever he did,” said Robertson. “Things worked out really well for him at Auburn after he finished [his baseball playing career), and he’s a fine young man. Kristi and my daughter Alex were friends and teammates, so we’re close with her family. Kristi’s also a great person. That was a close-knit group of girls.”
Stovall’s football career ended on New Year’s Day, but he’s not done with Auburn. He will be a graduate assistant for Thompson’s baseball team in the spring. He said that his college experience has been everything he hoped it would be and more.
“Just getting to experience this whole thing has been super fun,” Stovall said. “These guys impact my life far more than I impact theirs. Never in a million years did I think I’d put on an Auburn football helmet and be able to run out of the tunnel with the Auburn Tigers.”
Messenger Publisher/Editor Chris McCarthy contributed to this article