Julian Stafford has Sept. 1 circled on his calendar.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound redshirt sophomore expects to be lined up at wide receiver for Mississippi Valley State when the Delta Devils open the football season by taking on Florida A&M University in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney. The Memphis, Tenn., native is coming off a stellar season where he caught 52 passes for 800 yards and four touchdowns -- an impressive feat when you consider he had 57 yards as a freshman.
"Once he gets going, a player of his caliber is hard to slow down," says Coach Karl Morgan, who recalled the game against Grambling State last October, when Stafford amassed 262 all-purpose yards and two kick return touchdowns.
"That game was my coming-out party," says Stafford. "Everybody finally found out who I was."
Stafford's growth has been a welcome surprise for Delta Devils fans.
He wasn't highly recruited out of Sheffield High School in Memphis.
"I was a little disappointed that I didn't get the offers from big schools. Mississippi Valley State University was the school that gave me a chance to play Division I college football, and I'm really thankful for that."
Yet, he was far from the focal point of the offense when he first arrived on campus.
"There were times when I got frustrated [as a freshman], because I really wanted to help the team," he said. "But I knew if I stayed patient and worked hard my time would eventually come."
Stafford saved his best performance for the final game of the season against Texas Southern University last November. That's when he registered a career-high 282 all-purpose yards as MVSU cruised in a 34-3 rout.
Stafford credits a change in offensive coordinators (from his freshman to sophomore year) and his own increased dedication to his early success. "I've really stepped up my work ethic this past season by giving everything I do on the field 110 percent -- lifting weights more, studying more film and training hard every day," he says.
As expressive as his game is, Stafford is anything but. "I still don't like to go out much; I'm more of a homebody," admits Stafford, who pledged Kappa Alpha Psi last spring. "[Pledging] was something I've always wanted to do and I'm proud to be a part of."
While Stafford isn't looking beyond the MEAC/SWAC Challenge game, he does expect his team to have a breakout season. With a defense that finished third in the FCS standings and dynamic newcomers (including wide receiver Richard Drake and standout defensive end Robert Simpson), the Delta Devils could be a force.
"This could be a big year for us," Stafford said. "I think we will be very successful this year because the team has matured. No one on our roster is self-centered. We have a lot of veterans on the team who lead by example and really want to win."
Stafford can certainly count himself in that group.
Malcolm R. Miller is a junior at Mississippi Valley State majoring in Mass Communication with an emphasis in Broadcasting.