Animal Magnetism Tony Stallings loves his, er, pets--as much as he does playing at Louisville

November 12, 2001

As Louisville senior running back Tony Stallings deposits his
three-foot-long pet alligator, Baraka, into one of the five glass
tanks in his one-bedroom apartment, he explains why his wife of
five months, Vette, lets him keep dead mice in the freezer. "It
makes feeding the meat eaters a lot easier," says Tony, who every
week defrosts 10 to 12 mice in hot water to help feed his
collection of reptiles, which he started assembling in earnest
two years ago. In addition to the gator, there's a 1 1/2-foot-long
monitor lizard, a five-foot-long reticulated python and a
2 1/2-foot-long albino Burmese python. "For now, the mice work,"
says Tony, "but once the gator gets bigger, I'll have to move on
to whole turkeys for it."

Stallings has always been fascinated by animals. While growing up
in Bedford, Ohio, as the youngest of six kids, he begged his
mother, Sylvia, to take him to SeaWorld in nearby Aurora. At 15,
he got his first pet, a green iguana, and at 16, a part-time job
at a pet store. After putting up All-Ohio numbers (1,213 yards
rushing and 19 touchdowns) as a senior running back at Bedford
High, where he also occasionally started at linebacker, Stallings
packed up his iguana and headed to Louisville.

Following a redshirt year in 1997, the 5'11", 205-pound Stallings
started eight games at linebacker the next season and was named a
Conference USA all-freshman honoree. He then successfully lobbied
assistant head coach Art Valero and coach John L. Smith for a
spot in the backfield, but an ankle sprain slowed him and he saw
little action in 1999. Healthy again last season, he led the
Cardinals in rushing (810 yards) and tied for the lead in
touchdowns (nine). In last Saturday's 52-7 victory over Tulane,
which ran Louisville's record to 8-1, he rushed 10 times for 45
yards, increasing his season total to 440 yards on the ground. He
also caught two passes for 19 yards, including an 11-yard
touchdown reception, and helped on the kickoff and kickoff-return
teams. A bruising runner and an excellent blocker, Stallings is
one of the Cardinals' emotional leaders. "He gives you all he's
got every time out," says Smith.

Not that Stallings lets football get in the way of his animal
attraction. During the season he works on Monday afternoons at a
Louisville pet store, and he occasionally visits nearby schools
to show students his animals. The last two summers he worked at
the Louisville Zoo as a guide in the petting area, leading groups
of children through a village of goats, sheep, turtles, donkeys
and snakes.

A sociology major with a child due in April, Stallings hopes to
pursue a pro career after this year. If things work out--Smith
thinks Stallings has an outside chance at the NFL--he already has
his dream house planned. "When people like Kobe Bryant get rich,
they buy those big houses, but they're completely empty," says
Stallings. "Instead of having all those bedrooms where nobody's
going to sleep, I'm going to have rooms for all my animals." Down
one hall, he explains, will be his snakes, each in its own
habitat and with its own brass nameplate in cursive letters on
the door. In his den he'll keep parrots. In the living room he'll
have one wall of saltwater fish, and on the other side he'll have
a 20-foot glass tank for Baraka.

Stallings smiles and then remembers one more addition. "Oh,
yeah," he says, "let's not forget the dolphin that I'm going to
have swimming in my pool in the backyard. I haven't figured out
how I'm going to get one yet. Maybe I'll talk to those people at
SeaWorld, see if I can trade them some of my NFL tickets or


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