Catching Up With
 
 

Nov. 17, 2006

By Craig Chval

Rarely has a player demonstrated greater perseverance at Notre Dame than Jim Stone.

A highly-regarded running back who played baseball with future PGA star Fred Couples at Kennedy High School in Seattle, Stone displayed his considerable talent from the moment he arrived at Notre Dame, earning a monogram as a freshman on Notre Dame's 1977 national championship team.

But playing time was hard to come by, with Notre Dame's impressive stable of veteran running backs, including Vagas Ferguson who graduated just one year ahead of Stone as Notre Dame's all-time leading rusher, and Jerome Heavens.

Despite an MVP performance in the 1980 Blue-Gold Game, Stone started his senior season as the number-two tailback behind sophomore Phil Carter - who Stone helped recruit to Notre Dame from Tacoma, Washington.

But when Carter was injured on the final carry of a 254-yard performance against Michigan State (one shy of Ferguson's all-time Notre Dame record at the time), Stone finally got his chance to start. All he did was run for 224 yards against Miami's top-10 rushing defense.

"There was no doubt in my mind I would be ready, but I would be lying if I told you that I said I knew I'd get over 200 yards in my first start," Stone admits.

His performance against Miami was hardly a fluke. He ran for over 100 yards in each of Notre Dame's next two games (including a 122-yard performance against Army) before topping the 200-yard mark again in his fourth start, with 211 yards against Navy.

Stone both sparked and epitomized the 1980 Notre Dame squad, as head coach Dan Devine's final Irish squad surprised all of the experts by winning its first seven games en route to the number-one ranking in early November. Stone, who had led Notre Dame in kickoff returns as a sophomore and a junior, once again topped the Irish in that department, while also leading the '80 team with 908 rushing yards.
 

 

After a brief stint in the NFL, Stone starred for two seasons with the Chicago Blitz of the United States Football League before moving back to South Bend with his wife, former Notre Dame cheerleader Phyllis Washington.

Jim Stone earned his first career start during his senior season against Miami on October 11, 1980 and responded with a 224-yard effort on 38 carries in leading the Irish to a 32-14 victory. He went on to rush for 100-plus yards in three consecutive outings following that game, including a 211-yard performance in the Irish's 33-0 victory over Navy on October 31. He finished the season as the team's leading rusher with 908 yards on 192 carries.


The couple now lives in New Jersey, where Jim is a sales executive with Merial, the world's largest animal health care enterprise, and Phyllis is senior director of marketing for Merck & Co., Inc., and also serves on Notre Dame's board of trustees.

Their son, Alex, entertained offers to play football and basketball at several Ivy League schools and an invitation to walk on to Notre Dame's football team. Alex chose to attend New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he is pursing a degrees in business and communications and playing a key role on the basketball team as it transitions from NCAA Division II to Division I.

In his extensive public speaking, Stone talks about his time at Notre Dame. "It's such a unique experience, that sometimes you can't understand it while you're there," he says.

"But I always tell people to be patient, and when it's your turn, take advantage of it."


 
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In his first three seasons, Jim Stone served in a backup role at halfback and was used primarily as a kickoff return specialist. His 25.9 average on kickoff returns in 1979 (19 for 493 yards) ranked sixth nationally.
 
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