NCT senior could hurt
opponents on offense,
defense, special teams
By TONY CASTRO
After a dominant four-year prep career, Nature Coast Technical senior Vincent “Vinny” Louis Stulec was described by a local mentor as the Sharks’ “Swiss Army knife.”
A Swiss Army knife seemed apropos.
It’s extremely versatile and can deployed in multiple occasions, serving a variety of purposes – similar to the way the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Stulec was utilized along the California Street pitch.
In his fourth varsity season, Stulec unfurled all his capabilities on offense, defense and special teams – particularly on set pieces and headers in the box – his specialty.
In the process, Stulec was the king pin leader for a Sharks’ program that captured the Hernando County title for a fourth straight winter.
Under his steady influence, the Brooksville booters also reached its school-record fourth consecutive district finale.
In the process, the area coaches were so impressed with Stulec, he became the first NCT player to be named All-Hernando County for four straight seasons.
That was just the top of the iceberg.
He was further feted as Hernando County’s Player of the Year for a third straight season – just like J.P. Gates was in baseball from 2016-18.
Born in Union, New Jersey as the younger of two sons to Frank and Gina Stulec.
The Stulec’s, a family name derived from Croatia, have called Spring Hill home for the past 15 years.
Though neither of Vinny’s parents were soccer aficionados, his initial organized sports included playing soccer and flag football at 5 years old at the Hernando County Family YMCA in Spring Hill.
At 5 years old, he played Little League baseball for three years, mostly alternating between shortstop and the outfield.
Since he was 7, the brown-tressed and brown-eyed Stulec remained in futbol.
He played the next four seasons of rec soccer – mostly at forward – at the Anderson Snow Sports Complex.
Bitten by the soccer bug, Stulec’s parents opted to enroll him in the Wesley Chapel Flames competitive team, where he played for four years.
He also played competitively for the Tampa Bay United, Palm Harbor and Lutz prior to middle school.
Ironically, though he attended Challenger K-8, he never competed in any sports for the Navigators.
His life during that period of time consisted of going to school and attending club soccer practice.
Once he arrived on the California Street campus of NCT, he enrolled in the commercial arts cluster.
He’s been an ace in the classroom maintaining a 3.5 unweighted and 3.6 weighted grade point average.
In four varsity seasons under Head Coach Ian Wald and assistant coach Sal Calabrese, Stulec has flourished.
Climbing the ladder
As a freshman in 2015-16, Stulec debuted on the varsity level with 17 goals and six assists to rank fourth in the county scoring race.
As a sophomore in 2016-17, he led the county with 24 goals and added nine assists to finish behind Weeki Wachee High School’s Bailey Hypes in the scoring race, 58-57.
Stulec, who would prefer to play defense, was needed for the offensive spark he provides.
He helped secure the Hernando County Cup, and its second-ever district championship, the program’s initial win over Dade City-Pasco, and the school’s first-ever regional win in nipping River Ridge.
“If he had his way, he’d play centerback for us, but goals don’t come from trees, that’s why we have him up top,” explained NCT’s reigning Coach of the Year Ian Wald. “He’s got the right body type as a scorer … He’s tall, controls his body well and is fast … Besides having the gift to score, he’s humble and is a hard worker …
“I think things slowed down for him,” described Wald. “He was able to finish a great number of the shots he took … He’s the kind of player, the other guys rally around … Great overall kid … He’d rather have someone else be the leader … He’s not a real vocal player … He’s more of a watch me and we’ll get it done guy.”
As a junior, Stulec poured in a personal record 32 goals and added two assists to lead the local circuit in scoring, finishing with 66 points.
As a senior, he was one of four local players to notch at least 20 goals.
What set him apart was his county-leading and personal record 16 assists – most of which came in the scoring box or arrived off set pieces.
He ultimately finished third in the scoring race with 56 points.
Though Pasco High thwarted NCT’s bid at a district championship, 3-1, the Sharks reached the regional quarterfinals where they were eliminated in New Port Richey by host River Ridge in overtime.
After the curtains descended on his prep career, the 18-year-old Stulec finished with a school record 93 goals and 219 total points, to obliterate the old marks previously held by Morgan Vraspir (47 goals, 112 total points).
The area coaches were so impressed with his body of work he was named Hernando County Player of the Year as a sophomore, junior and senior.
After last season, he began the next chapter of his life inking with D-II Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina.
Praise poured in
“He deserved being named Player of the Year three times … For us, he was a fantastic leader,” stressed Coach Wald, a four-time Coach of the Year recipient. “He led us vocally and with his effort … He’s not an arrogant player; he’s extremely unselfish with his approach. He’s always been more worried about his team than his stats.
“Look at his milestones … He could be the best center back we’ve ever had … We’re gonna miss his leadership,” added Wald. “There were times where put the whole team on his back and carried us through games … He was reckless with his body … He didn’t care … He dove for countless headers on set pieces … He literally did everything well for us … It’s like we’re replacing six skill sets beginning next year.”
“Vinny was the rock in their defense … He was an unselfish player,” emphasized Springstead’s first-year Head Coach Chris Leko. “He could play striker or look to pass … To me, he was Nature Coast’s Swiss Army knife.”
“Vinny was a great player; played hard on both ends of the pitch,” said Central’s Kris Brooks.
“Multi-dimensional player; could hurt opponents in many different ways … Been a four-year starter.”
“Vinny’s reputation proceeded him … People around here didn’t know how to deal with his ability,” explained Hernando High’s Jacob Stone. “He could stop goals as easily as he could create … He could throw a pass 40 yards down field … Players at this level didn’t know how to defend him.”
“Was an all-around great player … I wish we had 11 guys just like him,” described Weeki Wachee’s Shane Tarbox. “He gave NCT control on either the offensive or defensive end …Due to his height, he could flick goals in or hurt you with his throw-ins.”
“Winning POY as a sophomore was the hardest,” explained Stulec. “There were a lot of good players around. The competition was better when I was a sophomore.
“Getting it for a third time is a huge accomplishment,” he noted. “I feel like I deserved it because I put in the work.”
On his transition from scorer to facilitator, “The hardest part was giving up a chance to score 100 goals,” shrugged Stulec. “But the team needed me more to play defense and work a little harder on special teams.”
On what Stulec will miss from NCT futbol, “I’m gonna miss not having Matt (Johnson) in the back. I wish I had a couple of seasons to see how much Drew (Kelly) and Justin (Leyden) will grown into their positions. Drew used to goof around in practice as a freshman. Now, he’s one of the most improved guys on our team.
“…Justin will be our center back of the future. He’ll get more and more comfortable there. He played stopper for us in our biggest games.”
Why the Flying Fleet?
One of the biggest reasons Stulec chose to play at Erskine was the addition of teammate Chris Reckner to the Flying Fleet roster.
“The school is not that far from Florida,“ noted Stulec. “And Chris will be there too. The school’s size was critical. It’s small. That’ll be better for a one-on-one situation with the teachers.”
Stulec explained that’s he’s currently undecided on his major though he’s leaning toward sports business or a sports management career.
“I’d like to do something with sports,“ he identified. “It’s a long shot to become a pro athlete.”
On his biggest obstacle, “It’s probably having to depend on myself.”
On what he savored the most at NCT, “The four years at Nature Coast were the best four years of my life,” he said. “We won the county four times and made the district finals four times – that doesn’t happen every day. I played with my friends – Morgan (Vraspir) and David (Pye) – I felt like I was a senior leader. The guys there liked me and I liked them. It was a great relationship.”
Despite a highly successful prep career, Stulec can’t get over losing to Sunlake in the regional semifinals as a sophomore, 3-2, and being eliminated a year later at home by the Seahawks, 5-1.
“Losing to Sunlake as a sophomore was a heartbreaker,” emphasized Stulec. “That was probably the best Nature Coast team I played on. The chemistry between the guys was there. The guys bought into the system and we just kept playing hard.”
In recalling his transition from scoring machine to facilitator, “I played wide as a sophomore and junior. As wide as I could be. I felt comfortable out there,” he said. “But as a senior, my job was to get the ball inside and becoming more of a defender. Originally, my mentality was just to score goals. I had to change this year and learn to give it up. It was the hardest thing to give it.”
On his special team’s prowess, “After watching the World Cup, the majority of goals were scored on special teams and set pieces,” noted Stulec.
“Special teams was a big part of our team this year. We scored probably half of our goals on set pieces.”
On being a senior leader, “My job was to have everybody focused and take things seriously – even in practice,” offered Stulec. “When I first started as a freshman, I wasn’t as serious with practice. I thought it was more fun and games. I learned that there’s a time to be real.”
In which games stood out, “I’ll never forget that Sunlake regional semifinal match as a sophomore. We should’ve won that match.
“…This year, the River Ridge regional was the best match we all played. Everyone fought for every ball,” expressed Stulec. “That’s the one we lost on penalty kicks.”
Prior to setting foot in South Carolina, Stulec continues to adhere to a strict workout regime.
His plan is to report to school in August in shape without losing any of his touch between the lines.
“I have to keep working on my speed and quickness,” emphasized Stulec. “And improve my strength and durability to get more muscles and endurance.”
He also takes his academics seriously.
“My academics are huge reason I’m going to college. My (playing time) clock could be up with a major injury.”
Leaving with school records is only part of his story.
“Setting school records was very important,” declared Stulec. “These were the best years of my life. You bleed the school colors; this was a great run. When it was all said and done I kinda proved I could be the guy that teams looked up to.”
On his lasting legacy, “I’d like to be remembered as a leader,” said Stulec. “Someone that others could depend on as a leader.”
By the Numbers:
NCT’s Vinny Stulec (2015-19)
– Compiled by TONY CASTRO
* Denotes All-Hernando County selection.
# Denotes school record.