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October 28, 2009

Stewart Surprised by Early Success

Just when you thought you were safe, it's another Walter Stewart article! Oh well, you strike when the iron's hot (and you make the most of your availabilities).

Plus, prior to Tim getting the request for his old article (which is tremendous by the way) I had already interviewed Walter. So, in the interest of not wasting time and resources, I bring you an extension of your wall-to-wall Walter Stewart coverage.

Actually, after this past game, I thought he was short-changed. He walks into the interview room after the Louisville win with the "golden football", yet most of the attention was going to Zach Collaros and Mardy Gilyard.

As they say, "Offense gets the glory...defense wins the game."

Stewart was asked one question after the game, but later was given his "props" when he was chosen to meet the media this week to preview the Syracuse match-up Saturday.

Better late than never, I was able to chase down Walter (and not many middle-aged guys can do that) out in the hall, just after he'd scored his reward for the day, the highly sought after City BBQ sweet tea.

Golden football and sweet tea all within a few days? Not a bad deal.

"We get the gold football for turnovers, ball disruptions, pass break-ups and stuff, so getting that interception (vs. Louisville) helped me get it," said Stewart.

The 10 tackles probably didn't hurt either as Stewart (along with Collaros) made the Big East Honor Roll this week. For a guy that didn't even play a down last year, Stewart has made a huge impact and is enjoying the success this "unsung" defense is having.

"It's very fun," said Stewart. "Just the style of play that all the players bring to the table, with the speed and the hitting and the interceptions and just flying around and getting to the quarterback, it's real fun playing out there."

While insiders knew Stewart could play (he was the team's Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year last season) even Stewart is shocked that he's made an impact so fast. Staying with the "next man in" philosophy, it took an injury to senior Curtis Young to accelerate Stewart's progress.

"I did not, I really did not," said Stewart when asked if he thought he'd be on the field this soon. "I thought I'd really be more of a back-up player and a spell player to back-up Curtis Young. The way things fell, it just pushed me to the front of the line and put me in a spot to play. I'm definitely excited about that."

Looking at Stewart, as has been documented; you don't really think defensive line. He looks like a prototypical wide receiver, or maybe a linebacker at best. That's even with some 30-35 pounds being put on him. He arrived at 195 and now professes to be around 225 (although Brian Kelly thinks that figure is derived by adding a couple of jackets).

"I definitely proved it's not all about size," said Stewart. "I tell freshman coming in (when) they're kind of struggling with their weight--I tell them that if it wasn't for just being a good player and knowing my stuff and being fast, I wouldn't be here. That's what I came in as, you know, a speed guy. It's not about size and strength and all that."

That said, Stewart has gotten bigger and stronger and anticipates being 245-250 when strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo gets done with him.

Looks are deceiving though, it turns out Stewart played the same spot in high school at all of 190 pounds. It seems this year's formation change is nothing new.

"In high school (Teays Valley, Ashville,OH) we ran a 3-4, so I did kind of the same thing," said Stewart. "(But) I was more of a pass-rusher. Now that since I've came here, I'm a little bit in coverage and a little bit in the backfield."

The new versatility and added bulk should pay off in the long run as it has for many a Bearcat here. While speaking with Walter in front of the "Bearcats in the Pros" display in the Lindner Center, I pointed out Antwan Peek. I told him, "There's a guy that came here as WR weighing less than you and left here as an animal with an NFL career ahead of him." You could say the same for tall, lanky Andre Frazier who started his Bearcat career at a buck-90.

Many transformations have taken place at UC over the years. The freshest in the mind of the current Bearcats is Connor Barwin, who had some weight, but added the speed that got him into "the league". Stewart takes a lot from Barwin's example and knows that he ALREADY has the speed.

"From being with him (Barwin) all last year, on the D-line and just being around him, it makes me feel good that he can do something like that," said Stewart.

Now the vaunted 3-4 of UC takes its act indoors to Syracuse to put the "1-2" on the Orange. Like many younger players, Stewart will have to adjust to playing a football game inside.

"I've never played indoors before, so that's going to be an experience in itself," the redshirt freshman said. "They've got pretty decent skill players. They've got a good receiver and a good running back and Paulus back there at quarterback. They've got decent skill players and it's going to be a challenge just keeping them in line."

Should Stewart and the defense respond again, the coveted golden football is still up for grabs. Walter's up on the rules and there is no clause preventing a back-to-back winner.

"Oh yeah...you stay around the football and get after it, you can own the golden ball," said Stewart.

And, as long as Collaros (or Pike) doesn't have another phenomenal game, Stewart might get more post-game "face time". Nonetheless, we're taking care of him on BCL this week.


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