Stewart should receive more playing time | NevadaAppeal.com

Stewart should receive more playing time

ByCharles Whisnand
AppealSports Editor

Carson High graduate John Stewart began to make his mark last year as a redshirt freshman in football for Weber State of Utah, a Division I-AA school.

Meanwhile three incoming freshmen are looking to make their mark and contribute to a fifth straight NAIA national title for Carroll College in Helena, Mont. Carson High’s Eric Walther and Bryan Maffei and Yerington’s Ryan Gilmore have all joined the Carroll program.

This season, Stewart should be able to make even a bigger mark and if everything goes as planned, he should be able to make a lasting mark in his last two years with Weber State.

Stewart played on virtually all of the special teams last year for Weber State and that should continue this season as a redshirt sophomore. But Stewart has moved up the depth chart at outside linebacker this year. He’s No. 2 on the depth chart, only behind a senior.

That means next year, Stewart is in line to start at outside linebacker his junior and senior seasons.

Last season, Stewart received the chance to see action at linebacker only once in the opening game of the season. But as a No. 2 outside linebacker this year, Stewart should see much more action at the position.

“That’s what it looks like,” said Stewart about receiving more playing time this year. “For sure I’m really looking forward to this season. They’re giving me a chance. We’ll see what happens.”

But Stewart isn’t going to forget his duties on special teams. “I love it out there,” said Stewart about special teams. “It’s fun. It’s football man.”

Stewart also has another goal for this season. “Special teams champ,” said Stewart about the way he wants to play. “I just want to lead the special teams.

“It’s one-third of the game. If you win that and you win offense or defense, you win the game.”

As a linebacker, Stewart has the mindset to play special teams. “The linebackers are usually the ones on most special teams,” he said.

He also said there’s no set formula for playing special teams. “It’s kind of hard to coach special teams,” Stewart said. “It changes every time. “It’s a liquid situation. It’s always flowing. It’s always changing. It definitely takes someone who can do a little bit of everything.”

Stewart worked hard during the off season. “It’s been really good,” said Stewart about his off season. “I got a lot bigger, faster and stronger.”

He’s one of the fastest – if no the fastest – linebacker on the team as Stewart has an outstanding time of 4.26 seconds in the shuttle run. He’s also bulked up to 6-2, 220 up from his listed 200. “On a good day, I was 200,” Stewart said.

Weber State began fall camp on Aug. 8. “It’s two a days,” Stewart said. “Everything’s been going well.”

He also feels more comfortable with the defense, Stewart said. “I feel a lot more solid,” he said. “I’m getting to know the defense like the back of my hand. I know the defense as well as anyone.”

Under first-year coach Ron McBride – the former Utah coach – Weber State made significant improvement last year going from 1-10 to 6-5. Weber State actually had a chance to share the Big Sky title, but lost its season finale in the rain at Portland State. “We just didn’t finish,” Stewart said. “We’ve got to finish this year.”

Eastern Washington, a team that Weber State beat, advanced to the Division I-AA playoffs last year. This year Weber State has been picked to finish third in the Big Sky behind traditional powers Montana and Montana State.

This year’s race promises to be as wide open as last year’s. “Everybody beat everybody,” Stewart said.

Stewart made a bold prediction for this year – he said Weber State should go unbeaten. And that includes the Mountain West Conference’s Colorado State.

Looking at the two schools strength numbers, Stewart said Weber State actually has better numbers.

“We were stronger than them,” he said. “Our O line is huge. We made some major stridess last year.

“I think we’re going to put it all together this year. If we play smart, I don’t think we should lose a game.”

Stewart gave much of the credit to his success to Carson coach Shane Quilling. During the off season when Stewart visited Quilling, he talked with him for 3 1/2 hours. “I love that guy,” Stewart said. “I’m just trying to make him proud.”

He also made it clear what he thought when Quilling came under fire last year. “I didn’t know what that crap was,” Stewart said.

“That was complete B.S. There’s no possible way I’d be in the position I’m in without coach Quilling and his staff.”

LOCALS AT CARROLL

Maffei could receive playing time at receiver while it’s likely that Gilmore will redshirt at defensive end. Walther will redshirt at offensive guard.

Maffei, one of Nevada’s top running backs last year, was originally recruited as defensive back, but was moved to receiver and has been impressive. Maffei, who has 4.4 speed, was impressive with the second team in a recent scrimmage and if he continues to do well, he should stay on the second team and receive playing time this year.

“They usually get to play every game,” said Maffei about the second team receivers.

“I caught all the balls thrown to me,” Maffei also said about the scrimmage. “I only made one mistake on the routes.”

Maffei hasn’t played receiver since his sophomore year in high school. “I haven’t played it in so long,” he said. “It’s kind of confusing.

“I’m athletic enough to pick it up. The playbook is a little difficult to get used to. It just takes a lot of studying. If I learn the playbook I have a good chance of playing this year.”

Walther said the coaches have been pleased with his progress. “They’re really impressed with what I’m doing,” he said.

But at 6-2, 240, Walther still needs to put on another 15 pounds “so I can be physically ready to play.”

Walther said he will concentrate on doing just that over the next year “so I can get into weightlifting and put on the weight to be successful.”

But that doesn’t mean Walther won’t contribute as much as he can this year. “Any part I can play here to help them win a fifth national title, that would be fine,” he said.

Carroll was hit hard by graduation and has a much younger team this year, but is still ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll. So the expectation is still to win a national title.

“It’s a lot different from high school,” Walther said. “I see the word championship everywhere. It’s a big deal here.”

While he didn’t receive that many reps, the 6-5, 240 Gilmore said he was happy with the way he played in the recent scrimmage. “I think I probably will,” said Gilmore about redshirting this year.