That’s what Dean Grosfeld kept muttering to himself as he watched and rewatched Rhamondre Stevenson’s high school highlight reel in 2017.
A self-acknowledged “football junkie,” Grosfeld, then the offensive coordinator at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., could hardly believe his eyes after opening Stevenson’s e-mail. A star running back at Centennial High in Las Vegas, Stevenson was dominating games against quality opponents.
“He was doing things you just can’t coach,” Grosfeld said of the player the Patriots selected in the fourth round of last month’s draft.
As excited as Grosfeld was, he was equally intrigued: Just how could this kid, the Las Vegas Player of the Year as a junior in 2014, be without a football home?
The answer could be traced to a broken foot Stevenson suffered early in his senior year. The time away from football affected every aspect of Stevenson’s life, and his grades suffered to the point where recruiters had backed away.
Stevenson decided against enrolling in a junior college to rejuvenate his football journey, which he believed had come to an end. And then, as he had so many times on the football field, he reversed course.
He sought advice from high school friend Devan Burrell, who was playing basketball at Cerritos. Burrell put him in contact with Grosfeld, and Stevenson shipped an introductory e-mail with his highlights. Two plays in and Grosfeld was hooked.
“Like I said, ‘Oh, Lord,’ ” Grosfeld chuckled. “So, I contacted him, and he said, ‘Coach, I want to come out to visit.’ ”
It was a good visit.
“Boom, he moved out that spring and he started with us right then,” said Grosfeld.
Stevenson meshed with the Cerritos community right away, according to Grosfeld.
“So right away we knew we had something special,” he said. “He had to get back in shape, so that was tough. We didn’t know to the extent that he was going to be like he was, at that particular time, but we knew he could be special.
“And he’s an awesome kid. I mean, he’s always got a smile on his face. He’s quiet, but he’s fun to be around and very genuine.”
Grosfeld, who played quarterback at Cerritos in the early 1990s and is now the head coach, knew he had a gem.
“He’s kind of what we’re all searching for,” Grosfeld said. “When you’re a school that runs the football or when you’re a program that runs the football, he’s really what you want, because he’s got everything.”
Grosfeld remembers Cerritos running backs coach Frank Montera’s take on the prized recruit.
“Rhamondre had three things that are really hard to get across to kids,” Grosfeld remembered Montera saying. “And that’s incredible feet, incredible vision, and incredible want to. So, we call it ‘want to.’ He loves blocking, which is odd for that position, but he really loves doing it. He’s a football player.”
While he contributed in his first season with the Falcons (68 carries, 501 yards, 3 touchdowns), Stevenson really took off in 2018. Grosfeld, who had ascended to head coach, told Stevenson he could be the best back in the country.
Stevenson rushed for 2,111 yards and 16 TDs. Oklahoma, which had showed early interest, was where Stevenson wanted to play next, and he kept his commitment even after other schools, including Southern Cal and Texas, jumped in late to try to snag him.
“We were convinced right away he was the best,” said Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, whose program was in need of a veteran back.
Stevenson’s Oklahoma career mirrored his path at Cerritos.
He spent his first season improving his conditioning, picking up the offense, deciphering pass protections and recognizing blitz pickups, and learning to become a “complete back,” according to Riley.
All the while, Stevenson was contributing on offense (64 rushes, 515 yards) and special teams.
Stevenson was suspended for the Peach Bowl in 2019 and for the first five games of 2020 for a rules violation. It was a humbling experience but also a time to grow.
“Honestly, at first I think he was really down about it,” said Riley. “I think just a sense of that he had let himself, and family, and everybody around here down. So, we had to pick him up a little bit. And then I think, as he started getting through it, his teammates uplifted him.
“And I think he got in a better place, mentally. Like, ‘Hey, it is what it is. I’ve got to work and be ready for when my time comes; when I am able to play.’ And I thought the last several weeks, leading up to him being able to get back on the field, he really kicked it into another level.”
In six games, the 6-foot, 246-pound Stevenson rushed for 665 yards and 7 TDs.
Riley credited former Pro Bowler and Oklahoma legend DeMarco Murray, the Sooners running backs coach, with helping Stevenson become a more polished, NFL-ready player.
With fullback bulk, tailback speed, receiver hands, and special teams flair, Stevenson could fill a number of roles for the Patriots. He could serve as an early-down back behind Damien Harris and Sony Michel and/or a third-down back behind James White.
No matter the role, Stevenson will make it hard for defenders to stop him.
“He has the ability to break tackles, and I think where it starts for him is he’s a big back that has a very low center of gravity,” said Riley. “When you watch him run, he really gets behind his pads, and there’s just not a lot of surface area to tackle with this guy.
“And then, you get people reduced to lunging at him, trying to take out his legs. And that’s where the gift of being able to make people miss, as well as run through or over people, it makes him tough to tackle. Just one guy is rarely going to bring this cat down.”