All the way back

by - Senior Writer -
Tony Steward said this is the best he has felt since his junior season of high school back in 2009. (TigerNet Staff)

CLEMSON – Tony StewardTony Steward
Jr. Linebacker
#7 6-0, 235
Hastings, FL

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says he is finally “back.”

The former 5-star linebacker out of Hastings (FL) has played just 109 defensive snaps in his first two seasons with the Tigers, not the kind of stats that Clemson’s coaches, fans or Steward himself expected after he chose Clemson on National Signing Day in 2011.

Steward suffered a torn ACL his senior season that stunted his development and the hope was that he would be able to contribute in 2011. However, he tore the ACL in his other knee in October of 2011 after playing just 36 snaps in five games.

Last season was all about getting healthy, and now that he is a full two years removed from the latest surgery, he feels the best he has felt since the fall of his junior season at Pedro Menendez High School back in 2009.

“Honestly, this is the healthiest and the best I’ve felt since my junior year of high school,” a relaxed and smiling Steward told the media following Tuesday’s practice. “The knee feels great. I don’t have to worry about anything. I can plant and cut. I don’t have to worry that after ten periods [of practice] my knee is killing me. There is nothing holding me back.”

Then he smiled and said that he feels like his signature speed and burst are back to pre-Clemson level, saying, “It is back. I’m not injured. I’m pain free and nothing is nagging me and that is awesome.

He then said that having to sit out most of 2011 and watching from the sidelines in 2012 took a toll on his psyche and confidence.

“It was really tough, actually,” he said. “It really had me down emotionally and physically. I could actually feel the weight on my chest. It was frustrating, but it helped me in that I could sit back and watch everything and understand what I needed to do.”

Adding to the learning curve in 2012 was the addition of a new defensive coordinator and linebacker coach in Brent VenablesBrent Venables
Defensive Coordinator / Linebackers
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, and Steward said he wondered if he was the right fit for Venables’ scheme.

“When he first got here, I wondered if it was the right fit for me,” he said. “But then you look at it, and this is the perfect defense for a linebacker.”

He said he had trouble picking up the nuances of Venables’ scheme.

"It was hard to catch on at first, understanding how to apply things. But once you get it, you lock on and learn. I don’t think there is a problem [with the verbiage] anymore. Now I feel comfortable.”

Feeling comfortable – and healthy – have boosted his confidence.

"Definitely. I feel like if you look at me [at practice], you wouldn't be able to tell I had a previous injury,” he said. “And that's been a big confidence booster."

Steward is competing with Spencer ShueySpencer Shuey
Gr. Linebacker
#33 6-3, 230
Charlotte, NC

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for snaps at the weakside linebacker spot, and he said the two players are pushing each other.
“We are definitely competing. It is awesome to have somebody like Spencer in front of me because that shows me the level I have to play at and be consistent,” he said. “We help each other. If one person forgets the call, we can help each other. It is a good relationship.”

He is also getting reps at the MIKE linebacker spot, but told reporters that he doesn’t have a goal for this seasons other than helping out his team.

"Just continue to have a good camp. As the coaches feel more and more comfortable, they'll put whoever is the best on the field,” he said. “Obviously the team is more than just me. I'm just a small part of it trying to help out a greater cause."

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