PULLMAN – Everything considered, it’s a pretty trivial matter. But since Washington State’s redshirt freshman “Rush” linebacker could see some real playing time in the near future, we might as well settle the debate now, if only to make it easier on the broadcasters who’ll be calling his name and the journalists who’ll be printing it.
R.J. Stone or Ron Stone Jr.?
It’s a fair question for the second-year Cougar because the evidence is conflicting: WSU lists “Ron Stone Jr.” on its official roster, but the player’s Twitter handle, “@Rj__Stone” indicates his fanbase – a group that could grow substantially this season – should call him the opposite.
So, the official verdict?
“I mean either/or works,” Stone Jr. said when asked to clear the confusion. “I’ve gone by R.J. my whole life, but kind of like my senior year and once I first got to college is when I’ve taken that step as Ron.”
That prompts the next most obvious question: How did R.J. become Ron?
Once football began to take a more prominent role in Stone’s life, he decided to make the switch, reverting to the birth name he adopted from his father – an ode to his first coach and mentor in the sport.
“I was named after my dad and that’s kind of one of the main reasons I started playing football,” Stone said. “Kind of a tribute to him a little bit and just showing I can do it, too.”
Ron Stone Sr. was a 13-year NFL veteran who had stops in Dallas, New York (Giants), Oakland and San Francisco. An offensive lineman who battled a spate of injuries throughout his career, Stone Sr. made three Pro Bowl appearances, two All-Pro teams and won a pair of Super Bowls – XXVII and XXX – with the Cowboys in the mid-1990s.
The memories are faint, but Stone Jr. still recalls sitting in club-level seats at the Oakland Coliseum and watching the tail end of his father’s pro career. Stone Sr. retired in 2006 after two seasons with the Raiders and kept his family close by in the Bay Area.
“Growing up, I used to go to a couple of his games when he was at the Raiders,” Stone Jr. said. “And a couple of the other teams, I don’t remember as well.”
It was a stop-and-go lifestyle for the Stones hopping from one city to the next, but the time Ron Jr. spent around the game was invaluable. When Ron Sr’s NFL career died down, he coached his son at the Pop Warner level all the way through to high school. Ron Sr. is still the offensive line coach at Valley Christian, where Ron Jr. was an All-Metro first-team selection as a senior and the West Catholic League’s Most Valuable Defensive Lineman.
“It’s kind of developed me as a football player knowing I get my dad as a coach,” said Stone Jr., whose sisters, aptly named Ronna and Ronika, are student-athletes at Oregon. “He went all the way to that top level, so there’s no better coaching you can get from that.”
He may be indifferent to what you call him, but Stone Jr. eventually wants to be known as WSU’s starting “Rush” linebacker. He’s in the thick of a competition with two returning players, Willie Taylor III and Dominick Silvels, who were essentially 1A and 1B at that position last year. So winning a job is no simple task.
Here’s what Stone Jr. thinks it’ll take: “Just effort in the individual drills and one-on-ones. Just winning all your drills. All the things you can do best, doing the best you can do. Just kind of set yourself apart individually.”
Even with vastly more experience than their younger position mate, Silvels and Taylor III know Stone Jr. is making a push – and a strong one – this spring. He had a touch sack in Saturday’s scrimmage and has worked occasionally with the No. 1 defense during Thursday’s 10th spring practice in Pullman.
“He’s competing, it’s all three of us competing right now,” Taylor III said. “We can all play. He’s good, needs to learn more. For me playing last year, I’ve been able to help him out a little bit. It’s been pretty good.”
It’s simple: Stone Jr. wants to make a name for himself at WSU. As long as “Stone Jr.” is the last name on the depth chart, the first name preceding it is unimportant.
“Everyone wants to play. Everyone wants to win, so it’s going to give us all that extra drive because there’s so few of us,” he said. “Two, three, we can all play, but that starting spot’s what everyone’s going for, so it’s really competitive and we’re all looking forward to it.”
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