UT center Stone switches snapping hands, improves exchange with QB

Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 10:05pm
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Courtesy University of Tennessee athletics 

Eating was harder. So was writing. Forced to use his right hand, southpaw James Stone adapted to a new way of accomplishing some of life’s basic tasks. 

Stone’s left arm wasn’t in a sling. He didn’t have a case of carpal tunnel. This was for the team.

So the 6-foot-3, 308-pound offensive lineman for the University of Tennessee continued to pick up that fork with his right hand and awkwardly maneuver his way through meals.

As a freshman, Stone started the last five games of 2010 at center. When the spring rolled around and it appeared he would stay at that position — he is expected to be the starter in the season opener on Sept. 3 against Montana — the UT coaches asked for a big favor.

They wanted him to stop snapping with his left hand and switch to his right. It wasn’t that Stone was snapping the ball wrong, but the exchanges between him and quarterback Tyler Bray were better when he snapped right-handed. 

“It is just more comfortable for the quarterback,” Stone said. “We had it do a different way. It was just awkward for him.”

But how comfortable is it for the center, a natural lefty?

“At first it was different, because I never had really used my right hand,” Stone said. “All it takes is repetition, and I’m still working on it every day, just to keep it down. I had to start doing more stuff with my right hand as I was getting accustomed to snapping right-handed.

“At first [it was difficult to snap] because it is just so awkward. But then you kind of get used to it.”

It’s not the first time Stone has adjusted for the Volunteers. Coming out of Maplewood High School, he was ranked seventh-best offensive guard in the country by Rivals.com and the fourth overall prospect in Tennessee. The 2009 Class 2A Mr. Football Lineman jumped into the mix right away last season, playing in all 12 games. He made eight starts, his first three at left guard and his last five at center, a position he had never played. 

“We had an injury so we had to fill a need, and I started working at that position,” he said. “It’s just getting accustomed to making the calls and snapping the ball … just blocking from the snapping-the-ball position.”

Stone’s quick adjustment to a new position and new hand shouldn’t be a shock considering his academic prowess. He scored a 28 on the ACT, and as a senior he received the William Hume Award, given to Metro Nashville’s top high school scholar-athlete.

Those wits sure can’t hurt when you play a position some say requires the smartest football players. 

“I wouldn’t go as far as saying [offensive linemen] are the smartest people on the team, but you just have to want to learn, you have to be a good student of the game,” Stone said. “I have to do a little bit of everything. But Tyler has to do a whole lot. I really can’t say I have more responsibility than Tyler when I just have to give him the ball.” 

He just has to make sure he gets it there with the right hand — literally.