STORRS – There is a certainly a sense of urgency building for Graham Stewart, the UConn junior linebacker and Xavier-Middletown alum from Durham.
At the same time, Stewart's maturity also continues to grow. He is thrilled about the opportunity to play on coach Bob Diaco's defense, but he has to temper his enthusiasm to a degree.
The Huskies put the pads on for the first time Wednesday in preparation for the Aug. 29 opener against BYU at Rentschler Field.
"I'm excited, but I'm also taking everything one day at a time, one step at a time, one play, one rep at a time," said Stewart, who played in eight games last season after sitting out the previous year because of NCAA transfer rules.
Stewart missed four games in 2013 with an ankle injury sustained against Michigan. Before the NCAA ruling became official, Stewart applied for a waiver to play right away after leaving Florida, and word is he likely would have gotten it. But when he shredded his pectoralis major (chest muscles) lifting weights, the point of playing that season became moot.
Stewart, 6 feet 1, 227 pounds, was a special teams player at Florida and scored a highlight reel touchdown off a blocked punt in the Gator Bowl win over Ohio State on Jan. 2, 2012.
Now it's time for Graham Stewart to contribute to the Huskies. Stewart had 111 tackles for state champion Xavier in 2010 and was The Courant's defensive player of the year.
"The past is the past, but everywhere I've been, everything I've done has made me the man I am today and I don't care what anybody says," Stewart said. "You carry things from the past with you and you feed off that, but at the end of the day it has to be an inner, deeper desire to be better and there's not one thing that has happened or a decision I've made that I regret at all. Everywhere I've been and everything I've done I've learned something and also accomplished something."
Stewart is No. 1 on the depth chart at an outside linebacker position and has been doing well, according to Diaco. Stewart figures to be a key piece in the 3-4 or 4-3 set.
"What he's shown me that I'm excited about mostly is his ability to be coached," Diaco said. "Right now his receptors are wide open. All he wants to be is as good as he can be. All is he wants to do is serve the team. He's not a me-me-me guy; he's interjecting at the appropriate times. I'm really pleased with the professionalism that he's approaching each day with. That's his greatest asset. From a tools standpoint, it doesn't change much. What he's working on and what we need to continue to clean up is his eye progression, his eye key progression."
Stewart has the tools to be a successful outside linebacker and has the benefit of learning from assistant coach Vincent Brown and Diaco. Brown was a linebacker with the Patriots; Diaco has coached linebackers at several schools and played the position at Iowa.
"I go out there every day trying to be the best Graham Stewart I can be," Stewart said. "I feel like I can be one of the best linebackers in this conference and in the country as long as I do the things the coaches want me to do and play the way I know I can. That's it. At the end of the day, got to buckle the chinstrap, go out there and play ball. And me, Graham, I'm a ballplayer. I play ball."
Stewart is a weight-lifting freak. He knows he's going to have to be careful to stay healthy.
"As you get older you have to get smarter," Stewart said. "Right now I'm working on being more flexible. When you're at this point, recovery is the most important thing. I'm working on recovering and doing the right things."… Freshman tailback Brice McAllister of Suffield Academy has been moved to cornerback, so redshirt freshman Josh Marriner, junior Max DeLorenzo and freshmen Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson figure to be the players getting the work in the backfield, along with sophomore fullback/tailback Jazzmar Clax. ... Sophomore kicker Bobby Puyol punted well Wednesday. Diaco said he might be the No. 2 punter behind redshirt freshman Justin Wain "because you need two," Diaco said. ... Trey Rutherford (6-5, 289) and Ryan Crozier (6-4, 282), both true freshmen, have been impressive and could see playing time the way they're going. ... Diaco said the offensive line is improving. ... No quarterbacks were available to the media and likely won't be until the starter is determined. Diaco said that competition is wide open and that two will play in games.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun