Having 'scratched, clawed and persevered,' Tony Steward's time is now

Dabo Swinney: 'I'm proud of him. He's a man - a full-grown man. He has a toughness about him that not many young men have'

Football Awards - Danny Pearman presents Tony Steward with the Special Teams Player of the Year Award

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football Awards - Danny Pearman presents Tony Steward with the Special Teams Player of the Year Award

Everybody loves a hard-luck story with a happy ending.

According to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, no one is more deserving of a positive turn of events than Tiger senior linebacker Tony Steward.

Steward, a five-star recruit who earned the Butkus Award as the nation's top high school linebacker during his career at Menendez High in St. Augustine, Fla., arrived at Clemson after suffering an ACL injury during his senior season.

He worked his way onto the field as a first-year freshman, but after playing in just five games, tore the ACL in his other knee while backpedaling on a punt drill. His injury came one game too late for him to receive a medical redshirt.

Steward made his way back on the field the following season, but played sparingly behind Tig Willard at 'will' linebacker. The emergence of Spencer Shuey as the Tigers' next mainstay at the position left Steward again as a backup.

Steward has shown uncommon toughness

Coming off two knee injuries

While he's made the most of his situation - winning awards as a special teams MVP - Steward is still waiting to make the on-field impact everyone expected when he joined Stephone Anthony in the nation's top-rated linebacker recruiting class in 2011.

Swinney believes that's about to change.

"We've started out with Tony as the starter," said Swinney. "It's his to lose as we go into this thing."

Swinney marvels at the 6-1, 230-pound Steward's physical toughness and mental strength.

"It's not just that he's had tough injuries, but it's when they've happened," Swinney said after Clemson's practice Monday night. "He misses a good bit of his senior year, and then fights back and gets five games into his freshman season and gets hurt again. He misses two whole springs in a row and is set back from that.

"Then he gets back fully healthy and he's behind a guy like Spencer Shuey, who's just not going to give it up.

"I'm proud of him. He's a man - a full-grown man. He has a toughness about him that not many young men have."

Steward, who earned ACC Academic Honor Roll recognition as a sophomore, enters his senior season having played in 31 games. He has 68 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback pressure, two pass breakups, one caused fumble, and one recovered fumble in 276 snaps.

Swinney says he not sure where Steward's long-range path will lead him in football, but for now, the door of opportunity is open.

"This is a great opportunity for him," Swinney said. "He's been through it, he's persevered and he's come out stronger. I love his work ethic, and where he is right now physically and mentally.

"It does your heart good to see a guy like that fight, scratch, claw and persevere."

Follow Kerry Capps on Twitter @oandwkc

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Comments » 5

JSBCharleston writes:

Says a lot about Tony that he won the special teams POY Award. Class act as well off the field with his academic achievements. One of my all time favorite tigers and I hope he stays healthy and has a big year.

Xander5000 writes:

Its too bad that Steward and Anthony couldn't have had majority of the defensive snaps together for like 2 years or something. Those two were supposed to be the enforcers of a rich tradition thats polished and shining once again.
They were supposed to be the second coming of Kirkland and McDaniel or Kirkland and Simmons.

Maybe this year with these two will have us all witness legacies old and new come alive again 50-fold for Clemson defensively....and do it all in one year what we should have seen a couple of years ago,----- and thats pure out-right ferocious domination by them.

TigerNE writes:

This could be a huge year for him no doubt. The fact that he hasn't let things out of his control get him down proves he also has the mental qualities that match his athletic skills. Big year indeed.

KIMOSAMI (Inactive) writes:

in response to Xander5000:

Its too bad that Steward and Anthony couldn't have had majority of the defensive snaps together for like 2 years or something. Those two were supposed to be the enforcers of a rich tradition thats polished and shining once again.
They were supposed to be the second coming of Kirkland and McDaniel or Kirkland and Simmons.

Maybe this year with these two will have us all witness legacies old and new come alive again 50-fold for Clemson defensively....and do it all in one year what we should have seen a couple of years ago,----- and thats pure out-right ferocious domination by them.

Agree 1000 percent. Been waiting for these two to be THE guys for four years.

TigerFan95 writes:

We should’ve never let Steward play that first year and redshirted him from the very beginning. He was likely not fully recovered from that first knee injury he suffered in HS and it likely led to the injury he suffered on the other knee. Rushing him back just to get some game experience on special teams was a big mistake on the part of our coaching staff. One more year of eligibility would’ve been huge for him.

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