By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Anybody who knows Jon Littell, knows he’s not one to watch from the stands — something he chose to do on Friday nights in the fall because of a promising baseball career.
But after Stillwater High School’s 47-34 loss to McAlester in the opening week, Littell couldn’t take it any more. Baseball career or not, he knew where he belonged — on the football field at Pioneer Stadium.
“I went to the game and I told some of my friends on the team that I would be there for the McAlester game,” Littell said. “That was pretty much the last straw. I couldn’t take much more than that. I contacted coach (Tucker) Barnard that weekend and we talked about it for a little bit. I prayed about it a lot and he was willing to take me back.”
As simple as it sounds, Barnard’s version of the story wasn’t that easy. Littell’s call came as a little bit of a surprise to the Stillwater coach.
“Jon called and honestly, he didn’t really tell me what he wanted,” Barnard said. “He just asked if I’d go meet with him and talk to him. We went and visited, talked about his situation and talked about his baseball future. He had an injury a couple years ago, so we went and talked about all that, but basically he wanted to help the football team — he wanted to try to help us win.
“I was happy to hear that. I’m happy to hear that kind of mentality. If we had come out and won that McAlester game by 40 points and wanted to be a part of that, that’s a lot easier to see. But when we lose a tough one like that and a guy wants to come out and help, that’s pretty exciting.”
Twenty-two months after it looked like he had hung up the pads for good, Littell stood in the doorway of the Stillwater High School football team’s weight room during a team meeting the Monday before Stillwater was scheduled to face Midwest City.
“It was kind of funny and maybe a little bit of an awkward moment,” Barnard said. “I think by the time I told them, everybody pretty much already knew.”
“I was excited but I had to keep it in,” Littell said. “(Barnard) wanted to address the team Monday at weights. They got a pretty good idea when I walked in the next morning for workouts. Obviously, that put a smile on my face knowing that they wanted me back out here. I’m definitely very appreciative of the opportunity.”
Littell may be happy to be back on the football field, but it hasn’t come without some growing pains. He fumbled against Midwest City on a reverse in the red zone and dropped a couple of passes.
“He was rusty,” Barnard said. “He’s been dropping some balls in practices and he dropped a couple balls in the game the other night. That’s probably to be expected. It’s been a while since he’s had to perform these type of skills. ... He’s doing a great job. He’s catching on quickly and he’s going to continue to catch on.”
To make up for lost time, Littell often spends time after practice working on those skills that he might have lost during his hiatus. The end result? Littell led the team with eight catches for 58 yards against Mustang Friday. He also threw a key block that sprang Jordan Brown for an 84-yard touchdown.
“It’s definitely been a process,” Littell said. “I’ve had to stay extra and work hard because I hadn’t played football in 22 months. You definitely have to work extra when your teammates have been working on it. You have to make that extra effort after practice, if that’s what it takes. That’s what I’ve really been working on.”
But it isn’t like Littell has been dormant the past 22 months. He spent the summer playing baseball in places like Citi Field in New York and Petco Park in San Diego, Calif.
“It definitely helps,” Littell said. “I haven’t been here this summer working out and stuff, but I’ve still been competitive the whole summer. I feel like you definitely have to have that in your sport. ... I wasn’t slouching off this summer, I’ve been working hard.”
And that work ethic — along with the leadership he developed — was a big reason Barnard welcomed the senior back with open arms.
“Just to be back out here once again is an unbelievable feeling,” Littell said. “Being out here with my best friends and ultimately going to war with them last Friday and in the weeks to come is great.”