When he got the call from the Bengals a week ago Monday, Clint Stitser told his head coach at McQueen High School to hold off on telling the kids that he was getting another shot at the NFL. When he ended up signing the next day, Jim Snelling broke the news to them and they were already talking about putting his framed Bengals jersey in the weight room.
"He didn't want them to get their hopes up," Selling said from Reno, Nev., this week. "And when he called to tell me he said, 'Out of all the weeks. Sorry about that.' And I told him it was no problem; we'd get by without him, and be rooting him on."
Stitser, the McQueen kicking coach that moonlights as a realtor, ended up missing the team's state title game appearance because of his NFL debut. Snelling's guys lost big but they'll be back. They've been in 12 of them and won six since the school opened in 1982. Stitser actually got McQueen into overtime of a state championship game as a junior with a late field goal in a game they eventually lost before coming back to win it the next year.
After the seven-and-a-half hour ride back from Las Vegas last Saturday night, Snelling spent Sunday driving around Reno trying to find the Bengals-Saints game on TV and didn't get it until he ended up at the batting cage where he takes his son.
Too late. He arrived well after Stitser kicked a 47-yard field goal with 4:25 left that gave the Bengals that ever so brief 30-27 lead. Snelling got there in the last minute and when told the Bengals needed a touchdown to win and not a field goal, Snelling went home to scan the Internet. Only then did he find out that Stitser's three-year sojourn to make it to the NFL yielded a three-for-three debut.
"It's a great lesson for the kids, no question," Snelling said. "No one is going to work harder at it than Clint. He's so detailed in everything he does."
Stitser took to videotaping the McQueen kickers and came through with flying colors this season on converting a junior who played soccer his first two years of high school. Snelling, 35, a junior varsity coach when Stitser played at the school, remembers him meeting with the coaches during his study halls a couple times a week to review defense and special teams.
"He was a strong safety first who kicked for us," Snelling said.
It is a small world. Two NFL jerseys are framed in the weight room and one of them is already a Bengals No. 3. It turns out that Jeff Rowe, the club's No. 3 quarterback in 2007, also went to McQueen, as did current Ravens cornerback and special teams ace Chris Carr.
"The kids are thinking it's going to be kind of interesting to have two No. 3 Bengals jerseys up there," Snelling said.
The most famous No. 3 in Bengaldom belongs to another kicker, Jim Breech, who wore it the last eight seasons of a career he became Cincinnati's all-time leading scorer. In his first five seasons he wore No. 10.
TACKLE TALK: Anthony Collins, the Bengals fourth-round pick in 2008 who made his first start as a rookie on Pittsburgh's sloppy field in a Thursday night game on NFL Network, has been here before. Then it was playing left tackle and dueling NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. Last year it was right tackle at Paul Brown Stadium going against the explosive LaMarr Woodley in that last drive the Bengals produced a last-minute 23-20 win.
So when he gets the call Sunday there are going to be a couple of reasons why he's got some confidence.
"My name is Anthony Collins, so I was born with confidence," he said last week.
Collins is an emotional player and an ebullient personality, cheerful and talkative, but that hasn't always translated to being on the same page as his coaches. Despite showing some promise in six straight starts at left tackle at the end of the '08 season and the Bengals having a 6-1 record in his seven starts at right tackle early last season, he was so far down on the depth chart this year that he was inactive for a five-game stretch.
He played all but 10 snaps in that win over the Steelers in the third game of the season, but he soon became rotated with Dennis Roland. The idea was that Roland was the better run player, and when first-round pick Andre Smith came back for the last seven games Collins didn't play in three of them.
With Smith shelved again and Roland struggling in the passing game, Collins has resurfaced in another rotation with Roland and after his 19 snaps last Sunday in a game quarterback Carson Palmer had a clean pocket much of the day, he says he's ready to make a run in an effort to win the job.
"He's playing better now than last year, for sure," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "He's playing more in passing situations, which is more of his strength. (But) there's more to football than being in a two-point stance on third down and pass block."
But then again, that is the 6-5, 324-pound Collins' background coming out of Beaumont, Texas, where he didn't play football until he was a senior in high school as a defensive end, and Kansas.
"It took him awhile," Alexander said. "He never played football with his hand on the ground the entire time he was in college. He was in a two-point stance and in high school he played defense. He had to learn that. He's still a work in progress."
As for the fear of tipping the pass when Collins is in the lineup, Alexander said, "Third-and-five is … a pretty good tip."
Woodley is an important assignment in his development because he represents the powerful bull-rusher that is supposed to give him problems as he tries to shed the finesse label.
"It' something I've worked on; I've built my body up every year," said Collins, who has put on about 20 pounds since his rookie year. "I'm excited. I don't think there's much difference in the styles of Harrison and Woodley. Both are great pass rushers who are strong and have good speed."
It's been a good week for Bengals tackles, the kind of week that makes one wonder how differently it would have been if some ifs played out. What if left tackle Levi Jones hadn't broke down physically? What if right tackle Stacy Andrews had re-signed before the Bengals took Smith in the 2009 draft after he played 2008 with the franchise tag?
Since then, Andrews has been traded (from Philadelphia to Seattle) and made all 14 of his starts since at guard after the Eagles gave him a six-year, $38.9 million deal. With Jones gone, left guard Andrew Whitworth has made the last 28 starts at left tackle and has blossomed into a Pro Bowl contender and led the fan voting at tackle this week.
"It's good to see; I think it's deserved," Alexander said. "I think he's as good as any tackle in football … he's the next one. Willie (Anderson) went to (four) Pro Bowls. Levi was on the verge until he fell apart. Stacy became the highest paid right tackle in history. Our tackles have done all right."