Austin Stiles’ dream of playing football at the NCAA Division-I level was derailed by a spinal condition.
The former Ceres High School standout receiver’s athletic career came to an abrupt end at College of San Mateo in 2017.
“It was really hard at first,” he said. “All I wanted to do was play football. They took my eligibility away because they were scared I was going to get paralyzed. Everything happens for a reason. You have to adjust to life. You can’t live in the past.”
Stiles was diagnosed with spinal stenosis after having multiple surgeries to repair hip and groin injuries.
“I have seven bulging disks in my back and my nerve canal is narrowed,” he said. “It was hell at first. I hated everything about it. I couldn’t wake up in the morning and put my own socks and shoes on. I was stuck on the couch for two years. I still lose feeling in my legs and feet.”
The grind of being a multi-sport athlete in high school took a toll on Stiles’ body.
Track and field.
Stiles never took a break.
“The constant beating and pounding, they think I overworked myself,” he said.
Unable to play football, Stiles planned to enlist in the U.S. Marines.
He was denied admittance in 2018.
“I tried to go to the Marines,” Stiles said. “I did the pre-boot camp for six months in Turlock. I went to get the final physical. They denied me because of my back and all of my surgeries.”
Stiles trains at Bonsu Elite Athletics (BEA) in Ceres.
He also receives treatment at KW Recovery Lab in Turlock.
“My body is pretty beat,” he said. “That’s why I train. I’m trying to keep my body moving. I’ve been running a lot. It bugs my back. But it’s good for my mind.”
Stiles has worked for Consolidated Engineering for the past two years.
The Valley Springs-based company specializes in civil construction, including concrete, asphalt paving, grading, underground utilities, septic systems and fire debris removal for natural disaster projects.
He’s traveled to job sites in Fresno, Pleasanton, Milpitas, San Jose and Santa Cruz.
“I’d lose my mind if I sat in an office,” he said. “It’s been a really good learning experience. We have a great team and everybody works hard.”
“I’m just focused on taking steps forward and trying to make the situation better for myself,” Stiles added. “I can’t thank my family enough and all the coaches that helped me. I started to live life again and have fun. There’s more to life than sports and being in the gym.”
Stiles starred in multiple sports at Ceres High, including football, basketball and track and field.
A newcomer to football, Stiles still managed to draw interest from a handful of Division-I schools during his final season with the Bulldogs.
He decided to take the junior-college route to gain more experience and boost his stock.
“If I had a good season, I would have gone to Washington State,” Stiles said. “I never got to play at San Mateo. I miss not being able to compete. I loved it. I live for that.”
Stiles played organized football for the first time during his junior year at Ceres High.
He totaled 347 yards and two touchdowns while hauling in 27 passes at receiver.
He played in just six games due to injury.
Stiles had a breakout season with the Bulldogs senior year.
He was selected to the WAC First Team. Stiles led the conference in receptions (38), yards (594) and touchdowns (9).
Stiles caught 64 passes for 1,015 yards and 14 TDs in a total of 10 games.
Invited to participate in the 43rd Annual Central California Lions All-Star Football Game, Stiles opted not to play due to a groin injury sustained during the track and field season.
“People try to live in the past,” he said. “Right now, I’m grinding, trying to take steps forward. I just bought a new truck. I want to buy a new house. I train the younger kids and do team sessions at BEA. Bonsu helped me all through high school. I want to do the same for all the little guys coming up. I want to teach kids you have to train hard but be smart.”