Fla. athlete Jimmy Stewart talks Terps pledge
On a sod field dotted with swing sets and slides, Jimmy Stewart’s high school football career was born.
The 5-foot-6, 120-pound freshman dodged playground equipment during practice while playing wide receiver, running back, cornerback and occasionally outside linebacker for Island Coast High’s ninth-grade team during the Cape Coral, Fla., program’s first year of existence.
Three years later, Stewart has grown into a 6-foot-3½, 215-pound defensive end and wide receiver for the Gators, fresh off a Florida District 2B-6 championship in their first varsity season last fall. The dramatic growth and development in Stewart’s game -- and Island Coast’s fortunes -- hasn’t gone unnoticed by college football recruiters. First there were a pair of senior defensive linemen -- Bryan Bosworth (Colorado State) and Aaron Lynch (Notre Dame) -- who made Division I commitments. And now there is Stewart, who pledged to Maryland on Sunday night.
“Maryland feels like a family,” said Stewart, who picked the Terps over offers from Colorado State, Kansas, Memphis and Middle Tennessee State. “The coaches were interested in me and treated me like a son.”
Building a program from scratch was no easy task for Island Coast coach Joe Bowen. But the process was simplified with guys like Stewart on board.
“The great thing about it is Jimmy is a yes sir, no sir type that’s going to do what’s best for the team,” Bowen said. “He’s just a coaching dream in that regard. Whatever you need, whatever’s best for the team, he’ll do. ... Sophomore year he grew, went through a big growth spurt, and played strong-side linebacker and wide receiver. He just did anything that we needed him to do to help the team.”
The Maryland coaching staff first discovered Stewart last spring. A host of coaches make the trek to Island Coast for a look at Lynch before he committed to the Irish. Terps defensive coordinator Don Brown, however, came away intrigued with Stewart’s potential.
“[Lynch is] a [four]-star recruit, and I told [Brown] point blank that we’ve got somebody else,” Bowen said. “I brought Jimmy over and they were floored that nobody was after him. Since that point on, they’ve been on Jimmy to see where he progresses with his size and athleticism and how performed on the field. And he’s shown he can step up and play.”
Athleticism, speed and versatility are the hallmarks of Stewart’s game. While he’s a defensive end for the Gators, size will probably prevent him from staying at that position in College Park. Bowen thinks that adding 20 pounds to Stewart’s frame is a reasonable goal.
“I’ve played outside linebacker,” Stewart said. “I know they’re looking at me for outside linebacker and I have a good chance at playing.”
Stewart, who made his visit to College Park with his grandpa for Maryland’s win over Duke, hopes to make a return trip with his mother before the year is done. Stewart hopes that his improbable high school success can be duplicated at Maryland.
“It’s a big relief,” Stewart said. “It feels really good. I’m really excited about it and I think I made a good choice.”