ACC Legends Week: Wake Forest's Ed Stetz

Nov. 12, 2012


Ed Stetz (Wake Forest, 1969-71) was one of the most productive linebackers in Wake Forest school history and, pound-for-pound, one of the most prolific tacklers in ACC lore. Stetz set school records for the Deacons in career tackles (460), single-season tackles (203) and career solo tackles (271), despite a playing weight of just over 200 pounds. When Stetz completed his career in 1971, the 460 tackles were also an ACC career record. The lynchpin of Wake defenses in 1969, 1970 and 1971, he helped the Deacons to their first ACC football title in 1970 for head coach Cal Stoll. He still ranks 16th on the ACC career tackle list and also holds the Wake Forest single-game record for tackles with 29 hits against Clemson in 1971, as well as the season mark for tackles per game of 18.5 in 1971. He was twice named first-team All-ACC in 1970 and 1971 and played in the Blue-Gray All-Star game. A native of Johnstown, Pa., he currently resides in his hometown.

You grew up a seven-hour drive from the Wake Forest campus. What prompted you to become a Demon Deacon?

We had a great Catholic league here in Johnstown, but I bucked the Catholic school system - my priest didn't talk to me for a while - and I went to the public school. My first year there, I played pretty decently, and my junior high coach told me, `You're going to play at Wake Forest.'

Did you know much about Wake at the time?

Well, I kept asking my Dad, `Have you ever heard of a place called Wake Forest?' because I had never heard of it. He told me that would be a heck of a school to get into, so that was always in the back of my mind.

And then they recruited you?

I was recruited by Maryland and Wake Forest, and I decided to go to Wake. We had some connections here in Johnstown with a Wake Forest assistant coach by the name of Joe Popp. Joe was quite instrumental in talking me into attending Wake. I will never forget it - every time I met him he had Beech Nut Gum in his mouth. I can still smell it. Anyway, the funniest thing he ever did to me was when he said, `Look at this schedule. Look at this schedule. We're playing USC.' I was familiar with them because we had some players from Johnstown who played at Michigan State and at Notre Dame, and they had played against USC. I said, `Holy heck, we're going to play USC. I can't wait.' Well, little did I know it was the University of South Carolina. That's how dumb I am. That's why I went to Wake. I thought we were playing USC ... which I guess we were.

Did you look at any other places besides Wake and Maryland?

Yes, and one I especially remember because of what is going on (with the ACC Legends program) this year. I believe the date was October 27, 1967. I was recruited by Pitt, and they were playing Miami. When I heard I was going to be in the same (ACC Legends) class with Ted Hendricks this year, my jaw dropped. He was one of my idols growing up, and he dismantled Pitt that day. The score was 58-0. I tried to set my tone of play at his level, which is pretty hard to do, but I achieved some success with it. I liked how he could just dominate a game, and that's what I tried to do. He was a heck of a player (as a Miami defensive end). If you had seen that game, it was such a joke to watch him just bowl over people. I didn't have his size, so I had to do a little bit of dancing more than he did.

When you got to Wake Forest, the team struggled your sophomore season, but then you put together two winning seasons, including the ACC championship your junior year. Can you pinpoint any one thing that turned it around?

Our coaching staff's background was half Bear Bryant and half Michigan State. We had a Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robot run-them-to-death philosophy then. They had us in great condition. We lost a lot of guys after my first year, but the guys that were left over, we felt like we could kick anyone's butt. I guess we were like a bunch of Marine recruits that just went through basic training. I think what turned it around was Coach (Cal) Stoll's philosophy: `Fourth quarter, don't give up, be in better shape.'

And you had to do that against a tough schedule.

We played teams like Nebraska, South Carolina, Florida State - those teams were on a higher level, and we saw what we had to do to play at that same level. It came together in the Florida State game, which was the third game my junior year. We should have won, but we lost (by a 19-14 score). From that point on, we had a lot of confidence. We had taken our game up to another level of speed and training. When we began playing some of the other teams in our conference, I felt like we were in a different league. We were playing just above them. And that came from playing the tougher opponents. It's like golf. I play a lot of golf now, and if you want to get better, you play with the `A' guys. You don't play with the `B' guys.

You closed your ACC schedule in 1970 with five conference wins, and that meant the championship. You beat North Carolina by one point and NC State by three points.

Those are two very memorable games. Wake Forest had an online vote a few years back to choose the most memorable game (in school history), and I hoped the fan base would choose the Carolina game that year where we came from behind. I still remember the end of that game, where the whole stadium just kind of exploded. Not many people who played in that game are going to forget it.

That was Wake's first ACC title, and the only one until 2006. That had to be something in which you took a lot of pride.

Well, another thing that motivated me and some of the rest of us that year - I was really ticked off when they did the ACC breakdown in Sports Illustrated. It came to Wake Forest's paragraph, and I can remember it verbatim. Three sentences, six words: `No offense. No defense. No hope.' That really got us going. Everybody felt like they were looking at us as kind of the dishrag of the conference.

Did you post that up on the bulletin board?

No, we didn't, but everybody talked about it. We didn't have to post it. I mean, who couldn't remember those three sentences?

You were the leading tackler, not only at Wake Forest, but in the entire conference. Was it just a matter of having a nose for the football?

I don't want to say I did anything that really set me apart because I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates. But (assistant coach) Tom Harper experimented with me in letting me do some stunts that I was pretty good at throughout my career in high school. He saw that in me, and we spent a lot of time in practices and in studying film. We broke film down like it hadn't been broken down before, where we saw tendencies. We went over that a lot, and after a week of a grueling practice with Coach Harper, you knew what the other team was going to do. That helped me a lot - some of the tendencies he showed me in opposing players: people leaning to one side, people moving back. You get a feel for it. I was able to anticipate what they were going to do and tried to get there before it was going happen.

So it wasn't just a matter of physical ability - you were very much mentally prepared as well, correct?

I was very, very fortunate I guess I owe that to my mother and my father, that I was at least semi-intelligent.

You set several records at Wake Forest, and some of them either still stand alone or still rank among the school leaders. Is it kind of amazing when you look back and see that those things have stood the test of time?

I take pride in that. I only played in 29 games out of a possible 33. I see a lot of guys in front of me who played in 48 games. Again, I was very fortunate. Coach Harper set the defense up to let me roam, and I took advantage of it. My teammates have to get a lot of credit for that also for holding the offensive linemen off of me and letting me attack the backs.

You played in Groves Stadium when it had just been built and was brand new. When you go back now and see the place (now BB&T Field), what do you think of all the upgrades that have been made over the years?

I'm in awe. I was there for the opening game in 1968, when Freddie Summers was the quarterback, and everyone was moaning about, `How are we going to repay this $4 million we borrowed to build this stadium.' Now, heck, Bridger Field House alone cost three or four times that much. And that press box looks like Donald Trump has his offices in there. My heavens, that is staggering. I look at that place, and think, `What did they do here?' It is beautiful, just beautiful.

I see that you are back in Johnstown now. Have you been there pretty much since you left Wake, and what have you been doing since football?

I was a teacher and coach, and then I was in the brokerage and insurance business for 27 years and retired three years ago. I got bored, so now I work for one of my ex-clients with a car dealership. I always thought I would wind up back in Winston-Salem. My wife is from Fort Lauderdale, and she always wanted to live where it was cold - you figure that out. I thought, `Boy, I am going to marry a Southern girl and stay South,' and I wound up back here. But Johnstown has treated me great. There are a lot of wonderful people here. But I still miss Winston and all the wonderful fans and all the great people I met down there.