TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute North middle linebacker Wyatt Stoetling grabs the attention of high school football spectators with his speed chasing down ball carriers.
He’s also seized the attention of his teammates with vigorous pre-game creativity.
“Before the games, he’s lighting it up, getting the mood going,” said senior safety Austin Massey. “Last week, he came out of the tunnel and he was swinging a hammer, saying we’re going to lay the wood on you guys as a defense and as an offense we’re going to pound the ball and score.”
The Class 5A No. 2 Patriots went on to a second straight dominant victory last Friday, toppling Columbus North 49-17 in a game that wasn’t really that close. Stoelting had a sack, two more tackles for loss and a team-high total of 15 tackles.
“Wyatt brings leadership and stability at the linebacker position and for the defense. He really sets the tone with his emotions and the way he plays the game: physical, hard, fast. The entire defense feeds off his emotions; it makes all of our jobs easier,” Massey said.
As a junior, Stoelting played alongside middle linebacker Lee Davis, now a Division I player at West Point, as well as Division I linebacker Austin Lewis. It was simply his time to take over as the team’s leader.
“I followed behind Lee Davis for most of my career. I just take it as my personal responsibility to try to get the defense excited and ready to go. I really enjoy it,” Stoelting said.
Coach Chris Barrett has enjoyed watching Stoelting lead the Patriots’ defense bring Conference Indiana running games to a crawl, which helps put an explosive North offense in good positions.
“He’s doing a great job of defeating blocks and getting to the ball,” Barrett said. “He’s been very consistent in the way he’s playing. It just goes back to his preparation. He’s worked extremely hard in the weight room. Worked hard with nutrition and showing a lot of discipline that go along with the strength and conditioning. working hard and doing extra. He’s just a heck of a football player.”
Barrett has created a disciplined football program, from emphasizing academics through study tables to thorough film study.
It’s helped Stoelting pay attention to detail. He looks back at two losses by his team that were by a total of six points and can find small corrections that could have made North undefeated. North blew a double-digit second-half lead against Terre Haute South and lost a two-overtime game to unbeaten Southport.
The Patriots have practiced with more precision because of those losses.
“Like coach Barrett says, champions — if they want to be champions — have to get through the monotony of practice. From what we saw against South game, we didn’t play fundamentally sound. Staying focused on fundamentals is a big key to achieving our goals,” Stoelting said.
Stoelting’s big-play ability in the middle of the defense has been big in many of the Patriots’ wins. He had a 19-yard interception return for a touchdown two weeks ago at Bloomington North. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder is leading the team with 19 solo tackles on the season.
His preparation also included an offseason in which he dropped weight in an effort to get faster. He’s now equally adept at making plays in the backfield as he is covering quick receivers downfield.
“This past offseason I dropped about 25 pounds. I did a lot of offseason training at Union Hospital. I got my 40[-yard dash] time from a 5.0 to 4.46 so I’m trying to play fast. Did a lot of speed training, but a lot of it was weight cutting. I’m just quicker,” Stoelting said. “My dad’s friend was a body builder so about December I got on a body-building diet with him. It only took me about three months to lose that [25 pounds] working out twice a day. I’m glad I did that.”
Stoelting is far from the only dedicated athlete on the defense. To lose several long-term leaders of the program and come back equally strong on defense this season is impressive.
The size and skill of a deep defensive line group helps free Stoelting to make plays all over the field.
“That’s a big asset to our success is the defensive line maintaining their gap so we can make tackles,” Stoelting said.
With the defense improving right along with the offense, the Patriots will be a tough out come state tournament time.
A physical, hammering style of play has become an identity at Terre Haute North. Stoetling said the Patriots also want to be known as finishers.
“Just want to finish the season, winning every game. Finishing games, finishing the season, finish the sectional [with a title] and go from there,” he said.