As parents, Opelika’s Brian and Keisha Stinson have gotten used to being amazed by the athletic exploits of their children.
The Stinson’s oldest son, Jaylen, wowed as a defensive back and a track athlete with the Bulldogs before joining the football team at Duke in 2020. Middle son Jarell has followed in Jaylen’s footsteps as a defensive back set to go to Ole Miss, while youngest son Jordan is coming into his own athletically as an eighth grader.
Brian and Keisha have been by their sons’ sides since they were playing rec league sports, which makes where the oldest two stand now — on the cusp of both playing college football at the FBS level — almost too much to comprehend.
“It’s inspiring, just to see where they came from. We look back at little pictures from where they came from. I texted Jaylen last week, ‘Man, you’ve been doing this at least for about 15 years,’” Brian said. “To be able to just go through a contact sport like that and your brother follows your lead, it’s just a blessing for our whole family. Then I’ve got Jordan behind them looking up at his brothers. I’m shocked, honestly, me and my wife.
“We’re just in awe. We thank God for the blessing that he’s given us to have these three beautiful boys and from an athletic standpoint to achieve the things they have.”
Brian and Keisha were athletes in their youth, with Keisha running track and Brian playing football at Opelika in the early 1990s.
It didn’t take their sons long to follow suit.
Jaylen was never the biggest kid growing up, but what he lacked in size he made up for in speed. Brian recalled Jaylen playing travel basketball with the Auburn Raptors when he was about 11 years old and facing a difficult situation on the floor.
The Raptors were down two points with about three seconds left in the game and were inbounding on their own side of the court. Despite the tall task, Jaylen caught the in-bound, dribbled a couple times then fired off a 75-foot shot — which fell through the net for the game-winner.
“I’m sitting there like, this kid’s got something special about him. He’s got the ‘it’ factor,” Brian said.
Jarell came along two years after Jaylen, and despite the age difference Brian had Jarell play on Jaylen’s youth teams. That forced Jarell to toughen up quickly and, over time, learn the game just as well as the older kids.
Jarell wasted little time in displaying his superstar potential.
Brian remembered Jarell’s eighth grade football team at Opelika preparing to play Auburn in the middle of the season. Before Jarell left for the game, he had a message for Keisha.
“Record the first play,” Jarell said. “I’m going to take it to the house.”
Sure enough, Jarell got the ball on the first play and took off for an 80-yard touchdown.
Fast-forward to another game against Auburn to end the year, and it was the same thing: Jarell told his mom to record the opening play, Jarell got the ball, and Jarell was gone.
Jarell’s competitive spirit was evident in whatever he did — especially if Jaylen was involved.
Both brothers competed in track and field, and as Jarell got more involved he constantly worked to outdo Jaylen. Even as recently as last spring’s outdoor state track meet, Jarell developed a habit of finishing his race, cooling off, finding his parents and asking what Jaylen had run in that event when he was in high school.
Jarell briefly competed in javelin like Jaylen, but once he saw Jaylen’s outstanding numbers, he decided he was better suited for the running events.
“He motivated me a lot by trying to keep up with him,” Jarell said of Jaylen. “He was always winning, so I just wanted to do what he did.”
Jarell and Jaylen were outstanding track athletes, but they were truly difference makers on the football field.
Jaylen played defensive back, wide receiver and punter for Opelika, and his combination of agility and awareness made him a constant threat to create a turnover or a scoring opportunity for the Bulldogs.
Jaylen ended his time at Opelika in style in 2019 by recording 67 solo tackles with one sack and one interception as part of a stifling defense that helped the Bulldogs win 11 games and reach the state semifinals.
With 13 scholarship offers to choose from, Jaylen signed with Duke. He cited the great education and the chance to play high-level football as major factors.
Opelika needed someone to step up once Jaylen graduated, and it didn’t take long for Jarell to prove himself capable. He played a bigger role on the Bulldogs’ defense in 2020 before taking another step forward this fall by recording 45 tackles and constantly forcing opponents to throw the ball wherever he was not.
Jarell’s progression led to plenty of scholarship offers. As trying as navigating recruiting was at times, Jarell had his older brother, who reassured him and reminded him to do whatever felt right to him.
“Me being the older brother, I was able to help him out and give him tips to help him get better because I’d went through some of the things he hasn’t,” Jarell said. “It just meant a lot to be able to be a role model to him.”
After initially committing to Auburn last December, Jarell flipped to Ole Miss in September. Jarell pointed to the staff and the location as being important in his decision.
While Jarell will soon start his collegiate career, Jaylen’s is already underway.
Jaylen played in 11 games as a true freshman last fall but has stepped up in a considerable way for Duke this season. Through 11 games, Jaylen has 36 tackles, three pass break-ups and one tackle for loss.
The highlight of Stinson’s season came on Nov. 6, when he ran a kickoff back 86 yards for a touchdown against Pittsburgh.
“I’ve learned a lot from my sophomore year. I’ve been given a bigger role not only just on special teams, but I’ve been playing a lot on the defensive side of the ball,” Jaylen said. “I guess the coaches just trust in me, and they’re just giving me a chance to show my ability. I feel it really has worked out.”
Brian and Keisha have made sure to enjoy every moment the last few years with their sons, whether it was Jaylen then Jarell rocking No. 2 — Brian’s old number — at Opelika or Jordan growing into a promising young linebacker. Brian has been sure to stay on his kids about working hard, explaining that God-given talent doesn’t mean much if you don’t try to maximize it.
The talent between the two oldest Stinsons is undeniable and leads to an important question: who wins in a foot race?
With each brother saying he would beat the other, Brian thought briefly before providing his answer.
“Jaylen better not mess with Jarell in the 400. It’s like a deer out there running,” Brian said. “The 200, I don’t think Jay wants to mess with that, either. Now, the 100 is going to be a toss-up. I’m just going to tell Jay, ‘You better eat your Wheaties to mess with him.’ Now, Jaylen for a burst might beat him in the 40.
“I might put my money on Jarell. There’s something about him. He’s motivated. The excitement of when he beats his older brother is going to overtake Jay, I believe.”