Tony Steward way ahead of schedule on rehab, can't wait to get to Clemson

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Tony Steward’s rehab is ahead of schedule, and the nation’s best high school linebacker is ready to get to Clemson.

The 6-2, 225-pounder out of St. Augustine, Florida’s Menendez High School tore his ACL in the last season’s final game, and had surgery three months ago to repair the tear. The injury didn’t hurt his college chances as college coaches had seen enough – 142 tackles his senior season - to make him one of the most sought-after defensive players in recent memory.

Steward picked the Tigers over the favored Florida St. Seminoles on National Signing Day, and his former head coach at Menendez, Keith Cromwell, said the linebacker is ahead of schedule.

“Pretty much after he signed with Clemson, he shut everything else down,” Cromwell told TigerNet on Wednesday. “His rehab is going great. He is at three months post-op, and he is way ahead of schedule with his rehab. He has been lifting extra hard with his upper body, and three or four days a week he is working with the therapist on his knee. Last time I talked to our team doctor, he was way ahead of schedule.”

Steward grew up as fan of the Seminoles, and he faced down a pro-FSU crowd in his school’s gymnasium on signing day. Since that day, the specter of the Seminoles has never gone away – even his mother is still a fan of the Noles – but Cromwell said that has made Steward even more determined to be at Clemson.

“He can’t wait to get to Clemson,” he said. “He talks about it every day. We are right in the heart of FSU territory, but that doesn’t seem to faze him. He sees 30 or 40 kids in the hallways here wearing FSU shirts every day, and he doesn’t care. He can’t wait to get to Clemson and talks about it constantly.

“He is going to be there for their spring game on April 9th, and then he wants to get up there as soon as he graduates in early June. He is even looking for someone to live with those first weeks – because he isn’t supposed to be there until July – just so he can get up there early.”

Cromwell said that in order to understand Steward, all one has to do is look at his injury and how he handled it, and you will realize how special of an athlete – and person – he is.

“When he injured his knee – tore his ACL – he never came out of the game,” Cromwell said. “I thought that he was injured on a kick return, but he told me later that he had gone in on a blitz and the running back had cut him. I went back and looked at it on film later, and he was right. And he didn’t tell anyone, he just kept playing.

“Then, we got the results back from the MRI, and I know that if I was Tony Steward, I would have been devastated. But it devastated me more than it did him. I should have known that if anybody could handle it, and bounce back and come back a better, stronger athlete it was Tony. It didn’t faze him at all. He told me he would come back better, and that is how he looked at it the whole way.”

Also, he said all you have to do is take a look at the film from signing day, as Steward faced down all of the FSU fans.

“He is definitely a non-conformist,” he said. “He is not a follower. He just doesn’t care what other people think. For Tony to grow up an FSU fan – and to have 99 percent of this town and this state and this school wanting him to go there – and then for him to stand up there and pick Clemson is just amazing. He picked the school that was the total package to him – more than just football. He did what was best for him, regardless of what other people thought. He makes his own choices.”

Cromwell said that Steward was turning into a man – both physically and mentally – at an early age.

He said that then-Florida assistant coach Dan Mullen – now the head coach at Miss. St. – dropped by the school on a recruiting visit and met Steward, who was a freshman at the time.

“Mullen told me that he had been all over the state of Florida recruiting, and that Tony was the best-looking kid as a ninth grader he had ever seen,” he said. “Now, you add to that the fact that he has football sense, and you have the total package. He is an amazing football player. He knew as much as the coaches did about the other team’s offense. And he would use all of that ability to get to the ball.

“On the high school level, he could have played any position, and he did that for us last year. We had him at quarterback, and he threw a 60-yard touchdown pass on a rope. He returned kicks. He ran out of the tailback spot and ran for touchdowns. We even had him play some defensive end in the state playoffs. He can play any position and do it well. He’s the greatest football player I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching.”

Cromwell said he had an inkling throughout the recruiting process that Clemson was the only team that could beat out the Seminoles, and didn’t know for sure until the night before National Signing Day.

Even then, it was close.

“Tony told me the night before that he was going to pick Clemson,” he said. “He told me he was going to call all of the other coaches and tell them, so they didn’t have to see it on television. He wanted them to hear it from him. But, the next morning, he was still thinking about it, and it could have gone either way right up until the last minute. He was searching hard. But he made the best decision for him.”

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