Stewart focused on getting better 'for Butch'

InsideTennessee keep you on top of all things Tennessee Vols. Scroll down to read a story on how Tennessee commit Zach Stewart is improving.

Perched behind the north end zone for virtually every Tennessee home game this season, Zach Stewart got a front row seat to soak in the speed and violence that is Southeastern Conference battles in the trenches.

The Coalfield (Tenn.) High School standout savored watching Antonio Richardson and Ja'Wuan James battle future NFL defensive ends game after game.

Stewart hits the offseason with those matchups in mind.

"Every time I got up to (Knoxville) for a game, I spent all the game watching that offensive line," Stewart told InsideTennessee. "I loved watching those guys play. I watch them and just try to learn from them."

Stewart recalls being awed by the speed, quickness and explosiveness displayed by both the Vols' veteran O-line and their defensive opponents.

It's no coincidence the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder is focusing on improving his speed and agility this offseason. Stewart knows speed isn't a commodity reserved for tailbacks and wideouts.

"Watching those match-ups all year, I know you have to be fast," Stewart said. "Everyone has to be fast at that level of football, and that's my goal. It's that simple – get faster."

Stewart is also looking forward to hitting the weights, as a nagging knee injury hampered his improvements last offseason.

"The knee slowed me down, but I didn't let it stop me from improving last year," Stewart said. "I love working out. I do. It's just who I am. I've been hitting the gym since I was 12."

Stewart claims a bench press max of 400 pounds and a squat that tops out around 485.

The Scout three-star hopes to push his bench into the upper 400s and get his squat around 550.

"I'm just a gym rat," Stewart said. "I'm very excited for an offseason of work. I'm excited to get stronger."

Other than a love for lifting, Stewart says he's determined to have a productive offseason because he feels he owes it to his future coaches at Tennessee.

"I look at it is way: If players and recruits work as hard as the coaches are right now with recruiting and all that, we'll get there no problem," Stewart said. "Rise to the top, man. We know we're going to get there, it's just a matter of hard work and time."

Stewart knows he better put in "hard work" now because he'll certainly get a helping of it when working with Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney in the future.

"Man, coach Mo is really intense. He's going to push you, I know that," Stewart told IT. "But I like that coaching style. That's how you get better. He's worked with a lot of talent and he does a great job. He's a big reason why I committed."

Stewart also knows he has to be able to do it all in Tennessee's up-tempo system. He feels his junior season prepared him for that.

On its way to an 8-4 season and a run to the TSSAA Class 1A semifinals, Coalfield was punished by injuries to several key players – a quarterback, wideout and tailback. As a result, the Yellow Jackets made a mid-season switch from a spread offense to a run-heavy system. Stewart said it helped him hone both his pass and run blocking skills.

"I had to learn something new really fast," Stewart said. "It just helped me get used to both systems and different types of blocking. As hard as it was for us as a team, I think it'll help me in the future."

It's a future Steward is more than ready for.

"I can't wait to get over there. I bleed orange," Stewart told IT. "I guarantee you this, I'm going to put in a long and hard offseason of work to be a better player for Coalfield first and foremost and then to get better for UT and coach Jones in two years."

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