Relaxation. What’s that?
Cleveland High School’s dynamic Inside linebacker Stratton Shufelt may not remember what relaxation is all about, but someday in the next handful of years he’ll know that his hectic summer of ’23 was worth it.
Shufelt, 6-foot-2 and 225 lbs. and a Storm senior this fall, has received 14 Division 1 offers from colleges seeking his myriad talents, among them three All-State first-team plaudits, solid defensive work last winter for the CHS basketball team and a two-time state shot put champion.
“I went to TCU first, and then I went to the Utah camp and then the ESPN 300 camp; and then I went to Sac State for a mini-camp, and then I went to Arkansas,” Shufelt said during a break at the Storm’s youth camp. “I’ve been on a plane about every other day. . .. Washington State just offered, so that’s an intriguing offer.”
Here are the 14 D1 offers he’s received: Washington State, Colorado, Air Force, Arkansas State, Connecticut, Harvard, Idaho State, Sam Houston State, TCU, UTEP, Yale, Baylor, Stanford, Wisconsin, UNM and NMSU.
Here’s what MaxPreps, touting Shufelt as the best player in the state, says about him: “The only player rated on 247Sports in New Mexico has been a standout linebacker for the b
est team in the state since his freshman campaign.”
Strat, as his coaches and teammates call him, will rely on his father, Pete, for some guidance; he played D1 football for UTEP and had a handful of NFL opportunities, which were shortened due to injuries.
“Definitely my dad’s been the most help, with where I’ll actually go, and what best fits me, what coaches I fit best with, what my degree (mechanical engineering) and what I’m going to study.”
Playing as a freshman will also be important; he did that for the Storm, culminating in his first All-State honor.
What does he want most this fall? Big surprise: “State championship, man. I never get tired of state championships.” (In addition to the Storm’s football titles, the track & field team has won the last seven 5A crowns, so he’s held blue there, too.)
The Storm won the Class 6A state championship in 2019, were arguably the best team in the state after going 5-0 in 20220, which was played in the spring of 2021, and then won state titles in the fall of 2021 and again last season.
This season, with a new quarterback and probably no worries about where he’ll be playing in 2024, Shufelt says he’ll “focus on the guys and focus on being here.”
Having Shufelt anchoring a defense, second-year head coach Robert Garza said, “sure makes my life easier.
“Having him there – his leadership, what he brings to the team – it’s obviously everybody sees what he does on the field, but what he brings as a leader is something (special).”
If you’re wondering as some do, where he got the name Stratton, no, it’s not from a lawnmower (Briggs & Stratton) manufacturer.
“It’s my grandfather’s name, so actually I’m the third Stratton,” he explained. “My uncle is Brett Stratton Shufelt and my grandfather was Stratton Robert Shufelt.”
“There’s no better feeling – you make a solo tackle, and you know, you make the whole crowd go crazy. … There’s no better feeling,” he said.
Does he dream of playing in the NFL?
“Absolutely, but I’m just taking it one step at a time. College football is obviously a goal of mine, and getting a good, stable career after that is like what’s most important to me,” he replied, modestly. ““Football is only temporary, so you’ve got to have life work out.”
“I think if anybody has the drive (to play on Sundays), it’s Stratton,” Garza said. “Henry Hattis is the one that we thought maybe had a chance (to make the NFL).”
Shufelt isn’t thinking about football 24/7/52; he admits to other diversions in his limited non-football time.
“I love hanging out with all my guys, all my buddies,” he said. “I like to golf – I golf a lot, especially in the summer when I don’t have football. I shot an 86 the other day.”
How he got to be 8
Shufelt was asked why he wears No. 8, a number typically seen on quarterbacks – Troy Aikman comes to mind first.
He says it’s a funny story.
“It was my freshman year and they had all the numbers down, and you can pick what you want. Coach (Heath) Ridenour was like, ‘Strat, pick one,’ and I said, ‘Eight is the only one left that was a single digit and I liked something that made you look bigger.’
“I was a freshman at the time, and he said, ‘If anyone else wants it, I’m giving it to them, like they have way more priority than you.’ I’m like, that’s fine and no one took it, so I got to stick with 8 and decided to stick with it my entire football career.”
Darlington’s been there, done that
As if hearing what his father, Pete, had to say about choosing a college wasn’t enough, Shufelt got some input from CHS offensive line coach Brandon Darlington.
Darlington, who’s lived in New Mexico since 2014 and been an assistant with Rio Rancho and then Cleveland, had been an All-American linebacker at Downingtown (West) High School, not far from Philadelphia, and was being recruited by nearly two-dozen schools.
Ultimately, he chose Syracuse University (2002-06) and, wouldn’t you know, it a coaching change occurred and Darlington became a tight end in a West Coast offense … which wasn’t what he signed up for, so he had to “adapt and make it work.”.
As for the decision-making process Darlington went through, he termed it eye-opening.
“It was a narrowing-down process, where you felt comfortable,” he said, and that was part of his advice to Shufelt – to feel comfortable, yet, “It was more of a gut feeling, was what I told Strat.”
He added another factor: “I wanted to be somewhere my parents could see me play,” he said, with “a driving distance to where they could make it to the majority of my home games.”
Darlington said Shufelt should also be aware of a future position change.
“What you’re used to in high school changes. They do a good job of fitting you where you ought to be,” he said. “They don’t care what you know; they can’t coach speed and size and strength.”
Maybe Darlington’s best advice, which has been used before, is “Just follow your heart.”
He’s not just a linebacker
Storm defensive coordinator Eddie Kilmer, going into his 49th football season, knows “Strat can play offense, too. He can play fullback, he can play guard, he can play center, he can play tackle.”
On occasion, noticeably when the Storm are attempting a 2-point conversion, Shufelt will line up behind quarterback to provide an extra blocker for a ball carrier.
“I’ll tell you what: He’s a football player,” Kilmer said. “There’s a chance (he can play in the NFL). One of the main things is stay injury-free, and he’s so far been injury-free, doesn’t have anything to slow him down.”
What about the intangibles – things not measured with weights or a stopwatch?
“Exceptional,” Kilmer said. “I’ll tell you this; this is the best way to put it. They asked the old Bum Phillips about Earl Campbell. He said, ‘If he’s not the best to ever play, it doesn’t take long to count the row.’”
“He’s just going to continue to improve. He’s getting better at reading 9the offense); a great linebacker has patience, instead of just being able to attack every play. He’s learned a lot. It’s hard to teach a guy as good as him – he teaches me, probably more than I teach him.”
No championship is guaranteed, but having Shufelt healthy is certainly a step in that direction.
“We’ve got a long way to go till the end of November, but we’re going to be working every day to get there,” said Kilmer.