Steward's time to shine

CLEMSON - Over three years since Tony Steward shocked the recruiting by signing with Clemson, he is finally in position to call a starting spot his own.

Don't even think about calling the former four-star prospect a bust, unless your definition of the word begins with a few musings about bad luck and closes with a statement pertaining to poor timing.

Steward has had to deal both since arriving to Clemson in 2011. Shoot, the bad luck started when he tore his ACL during his senior season at Pedro Menendez High School in Saint Augustine, Fla. ACL injury No. 2 occurred in October of his freshman season, after he'd logged just 36 snaps at linebacker.

"It's not just tough injuries," Dabo Swinney said, "It's when they happened. That's even tougher.

"Obviously, he missed a lot of his senior year [in high school]. Then, he fights his tail back and about five games into his freshman year, he's hurt again. So, now, you miss two whole springs in a row and [have] the setbacks from that."

As a sophomore in 2012, Steward played just 73 snaps. By the time he was healthy enough to compete for a spot in the two-deep rotation, seniors Tig Willard and Corico Wright were already entrenched, and they received a majority of the snaps at weak-side linebacker that season.

It was a similar story last season with Spencer Shuey, who finished with 118 tackles. Stephone Anthony was the only player on the Clemson defense to close the season with more.

"Tony is about to get an opportunity and I'm sure he cherishes that," Anthony said. "I'm sure Tony won't let the opportunity slip by."

Anthony would know. The two came in together as two of the biggest pieces in Clemson's vaunted 2011 recruiting class.

This fall, they're expected to start alongside one another: Anthony at middle linebacker and Steward at weak-side linebacker.

"Man, it's awesome. I've been waiting a long time to play beside Stephone," Steward said. "So, yeah, I'm just excited to get out there on the field next to him and just let loose and to tear up offenses."

All sorts of feel-good emotions run through Swinney when he thinks about what lies ahead for Steward in 2014.

"I'm proud of him. He is a man. Tony Steward, who knows what's going to happen for him in football, but he is a full-grown man, and has a toughness to him that you don't see many young people have," Swinney said. "He's persevered. He's had to go through a lot. He's come out stronger. I'm proud and love his work ethic. I love where he is right now, mentally and physically. It does your heart good to see a guy fight and scratch and claw and persevere."

So far this spring, Steward has shown that he's ready to be the guy that so many Clemson fans wanted to see when he donned that Clemson hat in February of 2011.

"He's doing a good job out there," Swinney said. "This is a great opportunity for him. There's no question about it. We're counting on him to be a big factor for us."

CUTigers.com Top Stories