Troy Stellato was playing for his 13U youth football team in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., when it became apparent he wasn’t tough enough, and that that wasn’t going to cut it on this eighth-grade team – one filled with future stars for high school programs like Cardinal Gibbons and national powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas.
Cody Rivers, a former Division III linebacker at Rose-Hulman who also helped coach former Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette Jr. during Arnette’s preps days, was an assistant coach on that youth team. Rivers remembers Stellato being timid and not aggressive, even though he was “the best route runner on the team,” Rivers said.
Rivers only coached Stellato for about a month before Stellato switched to another youth team in Parkland, but his memories of the young receiver are still clear. And those memories are brought up because of what’s happened since.
Stellato has become a Florida high school star, and here’s some background information on one of the reasons why:
“He stopped caring about his body,” Rivers told Eleven Warriors, referencing Stellato’s on-field play. “He’ll dive, go across the middle of the field. He’ll lay it on the line.”
In short, Stellato toughened up. He also surrounded himself with talented guys like receiver/safety Majon Wright – the little brother of former Florida Gators star safety Major Wright – and he began to put in the work it takes to become one of the best in the state.
Stellato went on to play at Cardinal Gibbons, where he was an overlooked, under-recruited three-star prospect ranked in the 400s overall and in the 60s at receiver during the summer after his sophomore season, rankings that came despite the wideout having led the Chiefs in receptions (42) and yards (706) en route to the Class 5A state championship – the first state title in program history
Stellato followed that up with a stellar encore, tallying team-bests 42 catches, 727 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games as a slot receiver during his junior campaign in 2019.
Now, Stellato stands as one of the hottest recruiting targets in the nation, ranked No. 211 overall and No. 36 at WR with a four-star billing to his name. It’s easy to see why. Flip on highlight clips on Hudl, YouTube, his Instagram page or on recruiting analysts’ Twitter accounts – or ESPN’s Twitter account – and you’ll see for yourself the talent and toughness.
He’ll sprint across the middle of the field and crash into linebackers, toss himself into a cornerback for a block and fully extend on dives for a ball that’s overthrown, crashing into the Cardinal Gibbons turf.
So much of that is because of Stellato’s mindset shift and how he changed his physique. He shot up to 6-foot-1 and pushed himself in the weight room, reaching a cut-up 180-185 pounds.
“Physically, if you look at him, he’s in really good shape,” Cardinal Gibbons head coach Matt DuBuc told Eleven Warriors. “You don’t have to tell him twice. He goes in there and does his work. We’re hoping – he’s such a competitor on the field. We want him to be a competitor when it comes to taking care of him being a leader. That’s a skill that some people are born with and some people can have and develop. He’s developing pretty quick with that.”
In addition to leadership, Stellato is also continuously working on his hands with tons of pass-catching reps, and he developed his route running even further. Oh, and those blazing fast 4.42 and 4.47 times in the 40-yard dash and 20-yard shuttle, respectively, quick footwork to get off the line and strength to get away from defenders’ grasps doesn’t hurt, either.
“You’re catching the ball vertically, horizontally. And our guys are all hands-catchers. We don’t have any guys that are body guys. That’s attractive to the next-level guys.”– Cardinal Gibbons head coach Matt DuBuc
In essence, he’s starting to become a much more complete receiver, even if there’s plenty of work left to do.
“He’s a good blocker. It’s like anything else, we can always be better at everything we do. We’re not gonna be satisfied with what you see on the highlight film because that’s what it is – highlight film,” DuBuc said. “Has he missed a block? Yeah. Has he pancaked somebody? Sure. The super challenge is build off of what you’ve done day-to-day, practice-to-practice and then game-to-game and when it’s all said and done, you’ve got a nice library of plays. Physically, he’s 6-foot or 6-1; 180 or 185, and he runs fast. He’s got a huge catch radius, and he’s a big competitor. He checks all the boxes.”
After Arkansas offered on Monday night, Stellato has a total of 41 full-ride offers – including most of the country’s top programs like Ohio State and Clemson (the two who seem to be battling back-and-forth the most consistent for his commitment), Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU, Georgia, USC, Texas and all of the major Florida schools – and over the weekend he won an MVP honor at the Rivals Camp Series in Miami, earning an invitation to the Rivals Five-Star Challenge this summer.
Stellato went from barely a blip to a full-blown bomb on the radar, becoming one of the best players and best receivers in America in the 2021 class and a fantastic receiver to utilize in DuBuc’s air-raid system – one that’s paved the way for a 43-9 overall record in his first four seasons as head coach.
“What I think we do well is develop receivers, quarterbacks and running backs in our offense, and we put a lot of kids in college every year,” DuBuc said. “I’ll take that as a credit. Maybe (Stellato) came here, and we developed him into the player he is now. I’m sure where he goes from here, there’s another step that he’s gonna take. God-willing, if he’s good enough, somebody’s gonna pay him some money to play.”
Stellato should fit in well into whatever college system he chooses, whether it’s the Buckeyes, one of the Tiger programs, the Crimson Tide or elsewhere. That’s not an accident. A lot of what Stellato has become is from his own work and the people he surrounds himself with, and a lot of it has come from the system in which he plays.
“I’m not around him off campus. I’m around him on campus. I know he’s got his speed guy he works with, but other than that, everything that we do at our place is air raid-based,” DuBuc said. “So he probably catches 100-150 balls in practice a day. I’d tell you that’s part of the development. We demand that you be a blocker because of what we do. That’s probably part of his development.
“They run a ton of routes every day in practice – (that’s) part of his development. We say it all the time – our system is kind of boring because it’s so monotonous, but it becomes second nature. It carries over into the game.”
DuBuc says the offense is boring because of the way it’s practiced. It’s monotonous and very detailed.
“It’s like the Wing-T. There’s not a ton of plays,” DuBuc said. “We have, maybe, 18-25 players in our arsenal. We just disguise the plays, but the guys are doing the majority of the same thing. And if you’re tired, and you don’t like to run, then you’re not going to be in this offense very long.”
The Chiefs don’t condition after practice and don’t stretch before it. At 3:15 sharp, the horn blows, and they’re going hard from the get-go. The 1-hour, 45-minute sessions are detail- and time-oriented, DuBuc wearing a stopwatch and in control of the disciplined, fragmented practices.
And in his offense, DuBuc it’s all predicated on fast movements, both vertically and horizontally, getting the ball out quick and getting the ball in the open field.
“There’s a lot of ways to get the ball in the end zone. We just choose to do it our way. Our way is quick, fast, push the ball down the field vertically, throw a lot of screens,” DuBuc said. “So when you’re getting recruited at our place, you know how to block because we’re blocking in the screen game for the other receivers. We’re blocking downfield on runs because there’s usually huge second-level runs we get to.
“You’re catching the ball vertically, horizontally. And our guys are all hands-catchers. We don’t have any guys that are body guys. That’s attractive to the next-level guys. The fraternity of coaches, they know the guys at Cardinal Gibbons, they’re gonna get good transcripts, character guys and guys that compete hard.”
These are all things that help explain why Stellato has become the player he is, and being born from the Gibbons offensive system should help him transition to the college game.
It's also helped put him in an envious position of being recruited by the nation’s best programs. Or, perhaps it’s not as completely envious as it may seem as Stellato will have to say “no” to a lot of people whom he’s grown close with over the last year.
That could end up being Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Brian Hartline and assistant receivers coach/quality control coach Keenan Bailey – a Cardinal Gibbons graduate who was one of the first to put Stellato on the Buckeyes’ radar.
It was all a dream, Words cant even describe how thankful and blessed I am thank you God. Recruitment still very much open to all schools #merrychristmas— Troy Stellato (@troystellato) December 25, 2019
Or, maybe Stellato will say “yes” to those three and make a lot of Buckeye fans very happy.
“I think Troy’s very competitive so he’ll want to go somewhere they can compete for a title – whether it’s a conference title or a national title,” DuBuc said. “Nick Saban was here, coming in on a helicopter. Geoff Collins was here from Georgia Tech. Brian Kelly from Notre Dame. The list goes on and on. Like I said before, it sounds great to be getting recruited like that, but there comes a lot of pressure. And you can only go to one of those places, so you’re gonna let people down.
“I think he’s one of those kids that like, ‘Man, I’ve got a great relationship with this guy, but I’m not gonna go to that school. How do you deal with that? You feel like you’re letting people down.”
That’s why DuBuc labels the entire recruiting process “humbling,” and those are the conversations he’s had with Stellato.
“I told him the other day, ‘Listen, you’re blessed to have all these people chasing you around,’ but I would say this, ‘It’s very humbling the decision you’re gonna have to make with these coaches and these programs.’ That’s the difficult part of it,” DuBuc said.
He later added: “It’s easy to get caught up in that overall situation because you’ve got some of the best head coaches coming through. It’s easy to start believing and stop working. The challenge is you can only go to one school, and you’ve gotta pick the right one.”