CAMDEN — Demetrius Stevenson was supposed to be a football player.
At least that’s what everybody assumed.
Stevenson was a big, athletic kid and his dad — also named Demetrius — had been a standout football player at both Caesar Rodney High and Wesley College.
But while the younger Stevenson tried football in junior high, it was never really his sport.
“I always heard, growing up, about how great a football player my dad was,” said Stevenson. “I was never afraid of not living up to anyone’s expectations.
“But it was more of a thing where I wasn’t in love with it. I needed to find my thing that I was in love with.”
Stevenson’s sport ended up being lacrosse.
Now a junior midfielder at CR, he’s starting to make a name for himself in his own right.
Over the winter, Stevenson verbally committed to Big 10-newcomer Rutgers, which is currently ranked fifth nationally in NCAA Division I.
And he’s still only halfway through his career with the Riders, who open the season on Wednesday by hosting Sussex Central at 7 p.m.
To be sure, at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Stevenson is built more like a football player. The 17-year-old has made himself into a skilled lacrosse player, though.
“He’s a big guy but he can move,” said senior goalie Tyler Gross. “He can play. He’s really transformed, I think, as a player.
“He’s gotten more athletic. He uses his size a lot more. He’s looking good. I think this is going to be his year.”
A season ago, Stevenson netted a team-high 33 goals with five assists as CR went 10-7 after losing in the DIAA state quarterfinals. He was a third-team All-Stater and a first-team all-Henlopen Conference pick.
“It was kind of an unexpected role but he went and ran with it,” said fourth-year Riders’ coach Matt Faircloth. “Being a sophomore, we weren’t sure what we were going to get from him. But you wouldn’t know that he was a sophomore last year.
“He plays the game at a high level. Being the size that he is, you’re not supposed to be that fast and be that large. He works at his craft very, very hard — on and off the field. He’s an excellent student as well.”
A serious travel-ball player with Team 302 Lacrosse, Stevenson had a handful of other Division I offers from schools like Delaware, Mount St. Mary’s and Fairfield. Even though he’s just a junior, Stevenson thought Rutgers was the right place for him.
Faircloth hopes having his college decision out of the way will allow the youngster to focus on his high school season.
“Having kids who have gone through that process, it can be pretty stressful on them,” said Faircloth. “Now that he’s got it done, he can just relax, enjoy the game and play.”
Stevenson said knowing that he’s going to a high-caliber college program motivates even more to make himself a better player.
“I’ve got to work 10 times harder now because they’re working 10 times harder up there,” he said. “I’ve got to hold myself to the same expectations.”
Before he gets to Rutgers, though, Stevenson wants to help the Riders contend for a state title.
In the last five years, CR has reached the finals twice and the semifinals two other times. While the Riders lost in the quarterfinals last spring, they had a regular-season win over Appoquinimink, which ended up in the championship game.
Besides Stevenson, Gross (108 saves, 6.2 percent goals-against average) was also a third-team All-Stater while junior defender Nolan Brockmeyer was an honorable mention selection.
Also back are first-team all-conference midfielder Jake Pangle (19 goals, 11 assists) and second-team all-conference defender Jacob Mollohan (31 groundballs, 15 caused turnovers).
“I think we’ve learned a lot over the last three years,” said Gross, one of nine seniors on the roster. “Last year our season ended a little earlier than we wanted it to. But I think that’s going to push us even harder to go even further this year.”
“We’ve always been on the brink of being great,” said Stevenson. “We’re trying to get over the hump. We have good returning talent and a lot of incoming talent, too. I’m really excited for this season.”
Stevenson was in fifth grade when he first picked up a lacrosse stick. He said it was pretty much love at first sight.
He never expected for things to take off as quickly as they did, though.
“Getting recruited as a freshman in high school is stressful,” said Stevenson. “At that point I’m not really thinking about college. The recruiting process now kind of makes you have to grow up a lot quicker.”
Stevenson said his dad, a well-known Dover police officer, was a big help when he was making his decision. He said the elder Stevenson has adjusted to being a lacrosse parent.
“He’s been one of my biggest supporters throughout the whole recruiting process,” said the youngster. “He was just getting into lacrosse when I was in eighth grade — he started understanding the rules. He always says, he’s just along for the ride.
“All his friends were always asking, ‘Why doesn’t Meat play football?’ I think he’s accepted that this is my thing and he’s happy with that.”
Reach sports editor Andy Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org