“They breathe football.”
That’s what Southampton football head coach Bruce Muro says about two of his top players, Shawn Stelling and Naike Williams. That dedication to, and obsession with, the sport has paid off for the seniors, as they’ve officially committed to playing in college next year.
Stelling, who was a four-year starting quarterback for the team, will play at Allegheny College in Meadville, in northwestern Pennsylvania, while Williams—who played a variety of positions in his one senior season as a Mariner—will play at Morrisville in central upstate New York. Both are Division III schools.
Stelling and Williams were key players for the Mariners in the fall. Stelling was an experienced leader under center, having been thrust into the spotlight as a freshman when he was called upon to be the starting quarterback. Williams played only his senior season at Southampton, transferring to the school after living with his mother in Virginia for the earlier years of high school. But he made an immediate impact, with his skill and athleticism lending him to several positions throughout the season. Muro said Williams will likely play wide receiver, and be a punt and kickoff return player at Morrisville.
Muro was proud of both his players.
“They’re football kids through and through,” he said. “They’re the kids that wanted to continue to play, and they’ll definitely have success because they’re so into it. I’m really excited for them.”
Muro added—and both Williams and Stelling concurred—that playing for a Division III school will give them both a great chance to make an impact right away as freshmen, and hopefully see significant playing time.
“It’s really gratifying as a head coach to send kids away to college for the sports they truly love,” Muro added.
Playing at Southampton for his senior year was a homecoming of sorts for Williams, who comes from a football-centric Southampton family. His father, Mitch Williams, played football at Southampton. His grandfather of the same name currently works as a security guard and bus driver at the school. His uncles, Marcus and Maurice Williams, were also Southampton football players, and another uncle, Malcolm Williams, was a standout player for the Mariners and graduated several years ago, also going on to play football in college.
Williams said he settled on Morrisville because he got a good feeling when he went there for a visit.
“I really liked the atmosphere and the vibe the players and coaches gave off,” he said. “It was all about family down there.”
Williams said he is excited to extend his career, in the sport he has been playing for 14 of his 18 years of life, and hopes to keep it going even further beyond that, with dreams to play professionally one day.
“It may or may not be the NFL, but football has always been my life and always will be,” he said. “Playing past college has always been a dream for me.”
Like Williams, Stelling has long had a laser focus on playing in college, and kept his eyes on that prize even as he battled through serious adversity in recent years. His father, Robert Stelling, was killed in a plane crash in December 2017, leaving behind Shawn; his mother, Dawn; and Shawn’s two younger siblings, Ryan and Summer. Stelling showed great maturity and poise in the days and months that followed, and says now that he is proud he was able to achieve a goal that was always important to both him and his father.
“I feel like he would have been proud of what I’ve done,” Stelling said. “He would always take me to football clinics and do everything to help me achieve my goals.”
Stelling credited Southampton teacher Barry Raebeck with helping him narrow down his college choices. He also pointed out that a significant scholarship factored into his decision to attend Allegheny, noting that getting a quality education was a big factor for him as well.
“For me, Division I used to be the dream, but as you get to know yourself and how you play, I realized that’s not realistic for me,” he said. “And there’s also the fact of how [at Division I schools] football is more important than school. For me, it’s about furthering myself for after college. It’s not just about football.”
Stelling added that he liked the small-school feel of Allegheny, and added that the eight-hour drive from the school to home was a manageable distance away.
Looking back on his high school career, Stelling admitted that a few more wins would’ve been nice (the Mariners have not had an above-.500 record for several years), but he said that rising to the challenge of starting at quarterback as a freshman was a great experience, and that he enjoyed his time on the field.
“It was a challenge I wanted to take on,” he said. “I loved the guys I worked with—it becomes a brotherhood. I look forward to that in college.”