In fact, when Chris Stewart enrolled into Notre Dame last January, "too big" was probably the word. Reports suggested Stewart actually enrolled in Notre Dame north of 390 pounds, but the now svelte Stewart has a new body, and a new position, and judging by his smile on Friday, he couldn't be happier.
"We basically sat down and talked about the options of staying on one side or moving to the other," Stewart said of early winter conversation with Irish head coach Charlie Weis. "He just said to help our team out, he wanted to try me out there, and I agreed."
"There" would be nose guard in the new 34 look that's currently being implemented by first-year Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. Previously, Stewart was recruited to play offensive guard for the Irish, but his big body and uncharacteristic flexibility for a big man was too appealing for both Brown and Weis to pass up on the defensive side of the ball.
"It's always been there since I can remember," said Stewart when asked about his flexibility. "Third grade, I took up karate, and we did a lot of flexibility drills, and that's about the first time I can remember doing it."
Irish fans saw first hand Stewart's limberness last year at the Army All-American game where photos quickly surfaced of the 6-foot-5, 360-pound senior in high school doing the splits, a gymnastic move not usually seen performed among offensive linemen.
Stewart also credits his basketball genes for his dexterity, quickness and light feet. His mother, Luisa, was a silver medalist for the 1976 United States women's basketball team.
"I think it's helping me drastically," Stewart said of his hoops background. "I personally think that basketball is one of the best sports for a big man. You're crossing your feet, you're shuffling, even some of the moves that we're working on now, I can really think about rebounding drills, sliding."
Surprisingly, the former Klein, Texas high school star continues to improve his quickness, and doesn't appear to have too much problem keeping the weight off.
"I'm about 320, 330 area right now," Stewart said when asked about what Irish strength coach Ruben Mendoza would think his ideal weight would be. "A lot of arrows have been thrown at us with the position switch and whatnot. I haven't really talked to him about it, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's talking in the high 20s, low 30s. That's what I'm guessing."
Now that the former second-team USA Today prep All-American is looking like a possible defensive player, how has the switch to the opposite side of the ball been for the likeable Stewart thus far?
"Probably the hardest thing, the quickness on the other side of the ball," he said. "Just being able to react quickly, read, run to the ball, things like that. That's really the things I'm struggling with right now. I expected it was going to be a hard transition."
Staying low for a big man is usually one of the more difficult tests for most defensive linemen, and Stewart says he's also struggled with the technique of getting under the pads of the opposition for the first couple of practices on the other side of the ball.
"It has been a factor," he admitted. "You're just doing something totally different—taking on blocks, shedding blocks, trying to make plays, which is a little bit different than offensive line, where you kind of know what direction you're going, who you're going after. It has been a factor, but I'm working on it."
Besides staying low, endurance and stamina are two things that Stewart also must improve to be effective at his new position.
"I'm hoping towards the end of the spring I'll be a whole lot better in that situation," he said when asked about the heightened conditioning he'll need to play defense. "Even today, I was feeling that I was moving a little bit better moving to the ball."
One thing Stewart didn't struggle with was learning the defensive playbook. The son of an educator, studying has never been a problem for Stewart. In fact, he loved the challenge.
"It's not really hard because I'm kind of one of those guys, that's what I enjoy," Stewart said when asked about balancing his schoolwork with learning the new playbook. "I enjoy learning……playbooks, schematics, watching pro tape of guys moving around. It's kind of exciting for me to learn something new. I'm kind of taking this on the same way."
Stewart says he's watched a lot of tape recently.
"I watched as many people as I could watch because I'm having a lot thrown my way," he said with a laugh. "As much information as I can get at this point, the better."
Despite all the learning, Stewart says he's excited about his new position because this particular spot fits what he essentially is, a big, strong man.
"It is kind of gratifying knowing that in a 3-4, a guy with my body type is more the ideal candidate for it than a 4-3, where it's more of a smaller-moving defensive lineman," Stewart said. "That was a factor in thinking about giving it a shot. It was a good factor in it. It was something that was a positive for me."
And the Irish are hoping Stewart's ideal size can be a big positive for them as well in 2007.
Stewart's Size Could Be Answer For Irish
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