HARRISBURG, Pa. (BVM) — While his classmates enjoyed one another’s company in the cafeteria, taking a break from learning and refueling for the rest of the fall school day, Bishop McDevitt sophomore signal-caller Stone Saunders was hungry for Xs and Os.
He’d take his daily go-to — two turkey and cheese sandwiches, Goldfish crackers, an apple, and a bottle of Gatorade — to head coach Jeff Weachter’s office to prepare for whatever test faced him that Friday night.
“We would watch film of the team that we were playing and it really helped me learn the game,” Saunders said. “Just really knowing what I’m going up against and preparing me for my competition … I couldn’t be more grateful for Coach Weac just helping me out.”
Well before he passed for 3,583 yards and 54 touchdowns and led the Crusaders to a PIAA Class 4A crown this past fall — accomplishments which earned him the 2022-23 Gatorade Pennsylvania Football Player of the Year award — the young quarterback got his first taste of varsity football during summer workouts as an eighth grader in 2020.
PIAA rules kept him from practicing with the squad in-season — even after his team’s season was canceled amid the pandemic — but Saunders made the best of a less-than-ideal situation. He’d write down his coaches’ play calls during games and met with Weachter on Zoom once a week or so to break down each of his practice reps from the months prior.
By the ensuing spring, Saunders was back under the coach’s in-person tutelage, both on the turf and in the office at the whiteboard. Not only did he have an offense to learn, but also how to read coverages and progress through passing concepts.
“The first 80-something days of school, he ate lunch with me,” Weachter said. “He packed his own lunch. I was free during his lunch period, we came down, we watched film … He’s a true student of the game.”
How could he not be? His father, Steve Saunders, is in his seventh year as the Baltimore Ravens’ strength and conditioning coach. His older brother, Logan, plays on the defensive line for Division II Shippensburg University.
“I’ve been surrounded by football, just soaking it all in since I was a kid,” Stone said. “Just processing on the field, just going through my reads just came pretty easy to me.”
“You always hate to throw a freshman in there, especially at the quarterback position,” Weachter said before explaining the exception. “He was ready. I mean, he worked so hard. He knows so much of the mental game and picks up everything so fast.”
Before he’d even taken a varsity snap, Michigan extended a scholarship to Stone at one of its camps. At that point, he hardly knew what being offered meant, just that there was a lot of work to be done.
“It was a really cool experience and all that, but I focused on the season because I knew that really didn’t matter at all if I did badly in the season,” said Stone, who wound up slinging a school-record 46 scores as a newbie.
Weachter’s mentor and former NFL quarterback, Dick Shiner, judges passers on how they perform when it matters most. Stone stood out in a crowd.
“The thing that impressed him the most about Stone was (during) a big game against LaSalle College in his first varsity start, the kid wasn’t nervous,” Weachter said.
Later that go-round, as Bishop McDevitt walked onto the field before the state championship clash against Aliquippa, it was the same cool demeanor. The coaches called a run-pass option on their attack’s second play from scrimmage and the Quips changed their defense.
As soon as he noticed, Weachter frantically called out for Saunders to audible. The freshman was already on it, signaling his backside wideout to run a skinny post. Boom, 59-yard touchdown.
From near and far, praise for Stone hasn’t been in short supply. His varsity record as a starter to this point is 25-3.
Couldn’t do it without these guys up front!! STATE CHAMPS. pic.twitter.com/yp5ngj8Fh3
— Stone Saunders (@Stone_Saunders8) December 9, 2022
“His arm is elite,” Weachter said. “I’ve had one longtime Southeastern Conference offensive coordinator tell me … he never saw a quarterback that young understand how to throw in windows like he does.”
It’s not just his accuracy that stands out, either. Weachter described one doozy of an aerial from this past season in particular.
“Our fourth game of the year, against Palmyra, he threw a ball — unfortunately we dropped it,” Weachter said. “He threw a ball that was really high in the air, but he dropped it right in the receiver’s hands. We calculated (that) the ball went 66 yards in the air.
“(Defensive coordinator) Danny Lansanah looked at me and said, ‘I haven’t seen a ball thrown like that since I played with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.’”
The 6-2, 195-pound triggerman has now collected 18 offers. His suitors include Georgia, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Penn State. There’s always more to be done, though.
“It’s almost scary to think about what could happen if I don’t keep working,” Stone said. “All of this could just go away. I just keep being motivated and trying to get better every day.”