Duffy Daugherty Football Building
East Lansing, MI
I have reported to you since game five last year that the most talented MSU receiver may be Darrell Stewart. The redshirt freshman from Houston, Texas, as the season went on last year had teammates and coaches alike buzzing with his big playmaking ability.
With Felton Davis already playing and not getting the amount of throws they wanted with Connor Cook’s propensity to lock onto a receiver, the staff, after a lot of talk, decided not to break Stewart’s red shirt and waste so much time.
That didn’t change anything. While some players pout, Stewart just kept making plays. Cincinnati Bengal Darien Harris told me last year late in the season, “He (Stewart) can really play and he makes great plays while giving us some good looks.”
So while Felton Davis, RJ Shelton, and the incoming freshmen are getting a lot of attention, people are forgetting about Stewart. Well, forget at your own peril. Spartan WR coach extraordinaire Terry Samuel told me this week, “Others may have forgotten, but for us he has always been there. He is just comfortable with the offense. Some guys learn it at a different pace. I am actually playing him at different positions now. He understands the offense and he is making plays. You will see him a lot this year that is for sure.”
What set Stewart apart last year and has continued all spring and preseason is his work ethic. While always flashing his big smile and having fun, the Texan has a unique ability to make hard work look easy. In fact, he can work his tail off and make it look effortless.
Many young men with the incredible God given talent he has simply coasted. That is not Stewart. The proud son of Tamara Johnson, Stewart attacks the game he plays with an exceptional work ethic that rarely is matched by someone of his talent.
Samuel said of his prize pupil, “I know he works his butt off. Asking questions, staying late, getting on the board, watching film and doing all of those things. The kid works his behind off. He knows how he learns. That is the best thing that I can say about a player. If it takes him longer, he just exposes himself to the information and the situation or whatever he needs to, to make himself better. He’s done those things.”
There are players who have great work ethic, but not the entire God given intangibles, and there are players that have the entire God given intangibles without the work ethic. The special players, the truly elite ones, are those that are like Stewart. Every God given gift imaginable mixed with a work ethic that would make a Texas oil field worker blush.
The funny thing about Stewart is that he is always smiling, always dancing, and always approaching the game of football like a business, with the youthful enthusiasm of a young child opening presents at Christmas.
Spending any amount of time with the young man it is impossible not to like him. He is warm, intelligent, and clearly raised by a family that understands the importance of raising a great person, not just a great football player. That infectious personality has won over his teammates as well.
Tyler O’Connor said of Stewart, “I think it is very reassuring at a QB to have a receiver like Darrell and his talent. A guy that you can trust that no moment or situation is going to be too big for him and he is going to make the play. That is a very special quality and he has it.”
I don’t think the young man can sit or stand still for long and that is OK when your job is to run. I asked him about the choice to redshirt him last year and the depth of character that he displayed in not getting bitter, but getting better.
He flashed his smile as big as the sunrise over his home Gulf of Mexico and said, “I have a lot to prove to a lot of people. I did redshirt last year and there are a lot of things that I got to prove to a lot of people. I got a big chip on my shoulder so I have a lot of things to prove to the world.”
The Spartan is set at the top of the Michigan State depth chart as the starting X receiver, but he echoed Coach Samuel’s take on where he can play. “I am still doing all three. One thing that Coach Sam coaches up is the ability to play every position. That way you can get on the field and just let the game flow to you. I am pretty much playing everything.”
For Stewart the ever present smile on his face tells the story. When I ask him about it, he admits, “I definitely feel good. There are a lot of things that Coach (Terry) Samuel is teaching us, he is a great guy coaching us up. A lot of positive feedback and I am feeling real comfortable in the offense. I am just having fun and being energetic.”
While there isn’t an arrogant bone in his body, does Stewart carry a twinge of a chip on his shoulder that the Spartans are fond of? With so much attention being place on the MSU receiver and little of it on him, you might think so.
“Coach D (Dantonio) and Coach (Ken) Mannie have instilled in us that the chip is just there to motivate you. I just want to come out and play against great talent. I want everyone who thinks I was in the darkness that I am in the light. I want to make the magic happen.”
Here is a great story from practice this week that sums up Stewart. Blaring over the sound system here at the Duffy Daugherty Football Building during practice was the theme song to rapper Will Smith’s TV show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Stewart while running was somehow dancing and keeping up. Coaches and players alike laughed at his style as he put in the work, but made it look easy. That is Stewart.
He is smart, he is kind, he is talented, and he is ready to emerge from the shadow to make big plays. No doubt you will take notice of his God given talent. No way will you miss his amazing work ethic. You just may have to look hard for it, because he makes it look easy.
“I am basically just having a lot of fun right now. Guys are out there dancing around and having fun. I am back to my high school days of just being comfortable. Making people miss and having fun. There are a couple of dance moves I really like.”
Stewart is comfortable, he is talented, and he is ready. That is great news for the Spartan Nation, but bad news for defensive backs around the country. But don’t worry guys; he will be smiling while he makes you look bad. It’s just how he does it.