Sophomore safety Jax Stam is a leader despite his young age for the Liberty football defense.

Safety Jax Stam has quickly become a tackling machine for Peoria’s Liberty High football team.

A sophomore, Stam has accounted for a team-high 34 tackles in a 4-2 start for the Lions. That success at the varsity level is nothing new, either. As a freshman in 2018, Stam made 59 varsity tackles, far-and-away the most of player in his class in Arizona.

His football success started even younger than that, though.

He has been playing the sport since he could walk. Compact and strong, he always loved the contact aspect of football most of all, even before tackling was allowed in his first seasons.

“I always told my coaches I couldn’t wait to get the flags off and get to tackle football, because I wanted to hit somebody. And that’s why I’ve always loved defense,” Stam said.

In the summer of 2018, Stam played his first varsity offseason practices. He impressed both coaches and teammates with his physicality and ability to learn the defense quickly. Stam even remembers stunning a few of his new teammates with a few hard hits in training.

One person was not surprised, though. Liberty coach Mark Smith, who in decades of coaching said he has only started a handful of freshmen on varsity, already knew the kind of kid he was getting. He had seen so much of Stam already.

“He would sit up there as an eighth-grader and watch us practice after school in the spring every day,” Smith said at the Lions’ stadium, pointing to the bleachers. 

“How many middle-schoolers do you know that would do that?”

The results have shown how hard he has worked, too. Liberty has over 40 seniors on its varsity roster, the most any player or coach can recall in recent memory.

With such a large class carrying so much tradition and talent, it is difficult for an underclassmen to make an impact, much less earn the respect of all his older teammates.

“They saw how intelligent he is on the football field, how he reads the game, and how hard he was working,” Smith said.

It is that large group of seniors that is motivating Stam to play hard now, too.

With four games left in the regular season, including a match-up with undefeated Pinnacle on Oct. 18 after an Oct. 11 visit to Boulder Creek, Stam is focused on making the most out of this year, especially for those who are in their last season. The Lions, with a quality finish, are a favorite to reach the 6A playoffs and potentially make a postseason run. Liberty will be relying on some big plays from Stam to get there.

“For a lot of them it’s their last chance. I want to do my part in making their last year memorable, and I hope that when I’m a senior, that the younger players do the same thing for me,” he said.