Buccaneers' Stovall working toward goals

All the calls and inquiries are being deflected to Dad for now.

Maurice Stovall knows the avalanche of requests from his family and friends in the Philadelphia area for Eagles-Buccaneers tickets are coming, when Tampa Bay comes to Lincoln Financial Field Sunday.

Maurice Stovall has averaged 23.3 yards on four receptions.

But for Stovall, the Bucs' fourth-year wide receiver out of Notre Dame and Archbishop Carroll High, his return marks a homecoming. He played his last game in the area in 2001.

This is the healthiest Stovall has been as a pro. His rookie year was plagued by back spasms, he broke his right arm in his second season, and had hamstring trouble that limited him to five games last year. This year, Stovall has caught four passes for 93 yards, averaging 23.3 yards per catch. His longest reception covered a career-best 38 yards.

Stovall feels good, and Sunday at the Linc, family and friends will see him at his best.

"I always try to approach every year as a breakout year for me," said Stovall, a 2002 Carroll and '06 Notre Dame graduate with a degree in sociology and computer applications. "I try to be the best wide receiver I can be, but, unfortunately, I haven't been a starter yet. I'm working on that. But it hasn't changed my mentality or work ethic."

The 6-5, 220-pound Stovall just changed his approach. Instead of working on getting larger and faster, he has focused on flexibility and maintaining. He didn't want to overwork himself, just sharpen his foot quickness and hand speed.

"I relaxed, which is something rare in the offseason," he said. "I wanted to make sure my body was healthy coming into the year, and this is the healthiest I've ever been as a pro. I used to think it was one thing after another, from my rookie year, to the broken arm and the hamstring problems.

"But stuff happens. I realize the Lord has a plan for everyone, and sometimes you have to go through obstacles to get what you want. I'll never stop fighting and working on obtaining my goals. It's why I always say a prayer before practice, before my games, after my games. Someone will see me take a knee, and I don't mind doing that in public. It's me."

Stovall will always be fueled emotionally by the memory of his mother, Cynthia, who died of ovarian cancer on May 24, 2006, at the age of 45. Cynthia lived long enough for Maurice to fulfill a promise to her and graduate from Notre Dame. And she's still around, Maurice feels, watching and guiding him.

"I talk to my mother every day," said Stovall, who wears reminders of his mother in a tattoo that says "Cynthia" on his left wrist, and another tattoo of an angel holding a gravestone with the year his mother passed away on his right arm. "It's why it means so much coming home. I live with her every day, but it also reminds me of what I learned playing at Carroll.

"I think back on those times when I played at Carroll all of the time. I learned how to win and work hard in high school. I remember watching as a freshman, watching Brian Mattaway and how hard he worked during games. I saw how hard you have to work to become a winner, like Jeff Vanak, and Kevin Waterman. Everyone was hungry and that carried me through high school, through college and into the pros. It's what has stayed with me throughout my entire career."

Now Stovall is gearing up for his trip home. It reminds him of the times as a child he would dress up as Randall Cunningham for Halloween, but he also remembers the many who have made it possible for him to become a pro, like his father, Maurice Sr., his sisters, Carroll coach Dan Bielli, and Frank Timmons, who trained Stovall since grade school.

"It means everything coming back home, it definitely does," he said. "It's great knowing people still remember you and that they still care. It's great motivation for me, knowing I'm playing for more than just myself, it's for my mother, my father, my family. It gives you a reason to keep improving and getting better."