The disappointment of playing to a 7-5 record touched every member of Michigan's football team last year. For sophomore cornerback Charles Stewart, separate from that disappointment was the frustration over not seeing the field as much as he had planned. The fiery youngster found it difficult to keep his spirits high at times, but thanks to the support of his family and his faith, he was able weather through it.
"My parents told me to stay positive," Stewart said. "My dad told me to keep fighting. Also, I prayed a lot. I'm very spiritual. I just asked God to help me stay strong because I knew one day I would get an opportunity, and I'm getting an opportunity right now."
The competition for the aforementioned opportunity…the chance to man the corner position opposite Leon Hall…was one of the fiercest of the spring. Stewart's strong standing in the race for the job is the culmination of his hard work and perseverance in the spring. With good friend Morgan Trent having more playing experience on his side, and redshirt frosh Johnny Sears showing flashes of big play ability in practice, Stewart knew he had to assert himself to prevent being buried on the depth chart.
"This spring I felt I was more focused," admitted Stewart. "I felt a sense of urgency because there were a lot of younger guys that were there. Coach E let me know that this was my time…my window, so I had to take advantage of it."
For Stewart to seize that chance, he was going to have to build a much better connection with his coach, and now defensive coordinator, Ron English. Both player and coach put forth the effort to make the relationship evolve over the past year. Now they each have a better appreciation for what the other needs.
"This spring I really felt I had an understanding of what he wanted," Stewart said. "He coached me differently. It was more teaching as opposed to always yelling. I really had to understand his coaching "points and understand not to listen to yelling and just hear the basic message. I think that helped me a lot…just listening to what he had to say."
The improved rapport with English allowed Stewart to relax and play like he did as a prep. It also allowed him to embrace the intense competition he was in with Trent and Sears.
"They're both great corners," Stewart said regarding his corner cohorts. "Morgan is fast and is a great cover guy. Johnny just has good playmaking skills. He is fast as well. He can come up and make good tackles. Me… I try to get my hands on receivers. I try to send a message to them because I'm a bigger guy. I'm close to 200-lbs, so I've got to do that. It's only right (laughing). I feel [being physical] is definitely one of my strong points. That's a point I've focused on ever since high school. I try to lay a big hit when I've got the opportunity."
"I didn't really feel (competing with them) as pressure," continued Stewart. "I know how good I can get. I don't want to make that sound arrogant, but I know how good I can be. If I'm doing everything right, I don't even look at it as a competition. I look at it as how good can I be."
Despite his success during the spring, Stewart knew he hadn't locked up the starting position when drills were over. He understood that there were still areas of his game that needed improvement, and he put in extra work in the summer to ensure his continued progress.
"I worked on my core and my speed everyday," he said. "I tried to get faster because Coach E thought that's the one area I could improve on. I improved on my flexibility and I watched a lot of film."
With fall camp now upon him, Stewart has no plans of letting up. He is determined to be a key part of a new defense that he believes will be more violent and aggressive.
"One difference that I like is Coach E is a very hyper enthused guy," said Stewart. "He expects us to celebrate together and get excited. I feel he is going to be more aggressive. I'm not completely sure because we haven't played a game yet, but it just seems like with his mentality we're going to be more aggressive and have a hype defense."