JMU’s Stinnie grows to enjoy playing on the offensive line

JMU's Aaron Stinnie prepares to block on a play during a game last year. Stinnie moved from defensive line to offensive line after his freshman season and has flourished at left tackle. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — Aaron Stinnie didn’t want any part of playing on the offensive line.

After finishing his redshirt freshman season at James Madison University, the coaching staff came to Stinnie and told him they wanted him to switch from defensive line to offensive line.

“I was definitely hesitant at first,” Stinnie said earlier this week after practice. “I didn’t want to move over at all honestly. It was kind of like the worst thing you want to do when you play defensive line. But they gave me the two options so I thought why not?”

Stinnie said the two options were to move to offensive line and be a starter or be a back-up on the defensive line.

The move has worked out well for everyone. Stinnie, now a redshirt senior, is in his third year as a starter at left tackle. He was selected as a Preseason All-American by three different publications.

The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Stinnie stands out on the offensive line, but he said it took some time for him to adjust from the move during his sophomore year.

“It was brand new because I had never really played offensive line before,” Stinnie said. “So I had to really learn — baby steps. Learning what different types of steps there are, what to look for in the backfield, up front, all types of different things.”

Stinnie said it did help him that he had played on the defensive line and he knew what to look for from the defensive line because he had played the position.

Stinnie said he received a lot of help from teammates and former JMU offensive line coach Jamal Powell.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Stinnie has been successful playing a sport as it runs in his family.

Stinnie’s father, Phil, played professional basketball. Phil Stinnie played college basketball at Virginia Commonwealth University from 1984-88. He was then drafted by the New York Knicks and ended up playing 12 years of basketball in Europe.

Aaron Stinnie said that his father was definitely a big influence on him growing up.

“It was awesome. He’s a great inspiration,” Stinnie said. “He was able to teach me the ropes of how things were going to go really with college, and some of the things I was going to have to battle being a student-athlete. So he taught me a lot and then the same with my brother. He was a defensive end at William & Mary. And he was finishing up at the time I was coming in here to JMU. So he definitely taught me a lot. And I really just look up to both of them.”

Stinnie said that he and his brother would play against his father in basketball games when he was young and even then his dad would never let them win.

Stinnie said his whole family was athletic and competitive and he believes it’s helped him succeed on the football field and in life.

“It definitely helped me because it gave me the competitive drive,” Stinnie said. “And me being the youngest, of my brother and I, I always had to work for things. So I’ve always had that competitive drive and chip on my shoulder, really being the underdog. I’ve always had that in my mind, and I think it helped me a lot.”

Stinnie’s father is currently the girls basketball coach at St. Anne’s Bellfield, a private school in Charlottesville. Aaron Stinnie played for two years at St. Anne’s Bellfield and his family lives in Charlottesville.

Aaron Stinnie said it’s nice going to school close to home and being able to have his family come watch him.

Last year Stinnie was part of a very successful offensive line and team. The Dukes ran for 4,125 yards as a team last year. They finished as one of the top offenses in the country with 7,612 yards.

They also won the Football Championship Subdivision national title.

“It was amazing to be a part of that ride and have that feeling,” Stinnie said. “It was just a great experience. That team was amazing, how close we were and everything like that. It was just a great time and a great thing to be a part of really.”

Second-year JMU head coach Mike Houston said Stinnie is a great leader for the younger players on the offensive line and for the team.

“He had God-given ability, but he has all the intangibles,” Houston said. “He’s a strong character young man and certainly a leader of the offensive line and of the team. He’s one of our core guys. I’m lucky I get a chance to coach him for two years. I wish I had him for two more, but we’re excited to have him in that room. And I think he’s been a great influence on the younger offensive lineman in that room.”

Stinnie is likely to get looks from the National Football League after the season is over, but he said that his focus right now is just on making JMU better. Stinnie said he feels good about what the team can accomplish this season.

“We got a lot of things to work on still, but I think we’ll continue to get better each and every week,” Stinnie said. “And the team is as strong and close as ever. So it’s definitely a great feeling around that locker room right now.”