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Canzano: Playing the long game in a 'crazy world'
Washington State's Ron Stone Jr. speaks out.
I’ve talked with Ron Stone Jr. a couple of times. The Washington State edge rusher is a terrific football player, but he’s got some other interests.
In fact, last December in Las Vegas he tapped me on the shoulder in the press box at halftime of the Pac-12 Championship football game. Stone Jr. told me he might like to work as a media member when he’s done with football.
Last week, Stone Jr. and I spoke in person again. This time about greed and the game’s twisted landscape. He told me about being approached in the offseason by collectives that tried to lure him away from Pullman with a pile of NIL money.
“It kind of kills it for some players,” Stone Jr. said. “Everyone is chasing the financial gain and not the actual football gain, the athletic opportunity. It’s ‘Who can pay me more?’ and not ‘Who can play me more?’ It’s not ‘What scheme fits me better?’ It’s ‘Which car is better?’”
As long as college athletics is asking for congressional intervention on the matter, it ought to put Stone Jr. in front of a subcommittee.
The guy is 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds. He has 11 career sacks and plays for a Pac-12 school that is projected to finish in the middle of the conference. He is exactly the caliber of player that a line of schools would target in the offseason to fill a need.
Said Stone: “It definitely happens. People are going to find a way to reach out to you or find a way to get in contact and tell you their spiel and tell you what they can offer. It’s a crazy world, for sure. It’s really hard. You lose a little bit of integrity, but at the same time you don’t want to sit here and say you don’t want to change your family’s life by getting all this money.”
Then returned to WSU for a sixth year.
“It was more important to me to finish out what I started,” Stone Jr. told me. “I really just owed it to myself and the people to stay one more and not fall into temptations and all that. At the end of the day, I really like what we have cooking on the Palouse and I want to stick around and see what happens.”
His coach, Jake Dickert was already facing the loss of his offensive and defensive coordinators last offseason. He was immersed in hiring for those positions. The last thing the WSU coach needed was a program culture-keeper with Stone Jr.’s talent and experience to hop in the transfer portal and compound the problem.
Said Dickert: “It happened. It’s not something that’s fictional. Ron had those opportunities. And he chose to finish what he started.”
His father, Ron Sr., played 13 seasons in the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl three times and won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys. It’s a huge advantage to have that kind of perspective in your corner. Not everyone does.
Also, two other children in the Stone family were high-level college athletes. Ronika (volleyball) and Ronna (discus/shot put) both competed for the University of Oregon. This is a family with unique perspective. Maybe one ideally positioned to be patient in today’s gotta-go-fast world of college athletics.
“The financial aspect should take care of itself (in the NFL) if I take care of what I need to do,” Stone Jr. said. “It’s crazy to say ‘I don’t need that money.’ But I’m blessed and fortunate enough to be financially stable enough to where I don’t need — it’s not a need. Of course, everyone would like to have more money.”
I spoke with Dickert and Ron Stone Jr. in back-to-back interviews last Friday at Pac-12 Media Day in Las Vegas. Dickert loves his sport. He called college football “the greatest game in the world.” Simultaneously, the coach is concerned about short-sighted decisions, the erosion of loyalty, and where the game is headed.
“I don’t know what the solution is,” Dickert said.
The Cougars need to be more consistent on offense this season. They need quarterback Cam Ward to take a solid step forward. WSU must integrate the coordinators smoothly, tackle the ball carrier well, and avoid turnovers.
Simple stuff, right?
Amid all that, though, Ron Stone Jr. stayed put. He didn’t leave WSU for an SEC program or flip to another Pac-12 program. He decided to play the long game.
Said Dickert: “You leave somewhere for six months and it all goes away. You lose who you are. The money has gotten so crazy.”
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