Logan • Typically, a football depth chart is a two-way street: You move up, or you move down.
Rashard Stewart took a much more circuitous route. To see his name at the top of the cornerbacks is not to appreciate his odyssey to get there.
Utah State’s senior defensive back came in with an ambiguously defined role, flipped positions once or twice and had a few injuries block his path. Since ascending to the top of the corners this year, coaches have seen how hard he’s willing to work to stay there.
"He came in as an athlete type of guy, bounced around for a couple years," cornerbacks coach Kendrick Shaver said. "He saw some guys ahead of him do some nice things. They’re gone now, and he’s really, really stepped up. That’s real leadership."
In a graduation-depleted secondary, Stewart is a bright spot. He was a role player last season, but this spring he’s a headliner.
He works tirelessly against receivers with a few inches on him, and doesn’t let them get away with much. He’s a talker as well, and if he denies the offense a completion, he doesn’t let them forget it.
Stewart’s improvement comes at no small expense: He’s dedicated himself to the film room, to training, to study. He stopped frittering away time on his side interests, including composing rap music that gained him a cult following in Logan.
He sees how his role as an upperclassman is all the more important for a position group lacking experience.
"The guys that left are like my older brothers," he said. "One brother, Will Davis, goes off. Nevin Lawson, my brother, goes off. Now it’s my turn, I gotta take care of my little brothers."
When it comes to being "little brother," Stewart can relate. He was once in the back of a long line at corner, even switching into a receiver role at times in his career. Last year, he was in competition with Tay Glover-Wright for a starting spot before getting nicked up just prior to the season opener.
His other big injury from last year is well-remembered: Against Colorado State, Stewart collided with a teammate and lay motionless on the ground for several minutes. Medical personnel eventually took him away in a stretcher.
He doesn’t remember the experience, save for his roommate Jojo Natson coming over to check on him. But he insists the episode wasn’t as frightening as it appeared.
"I don’t want to put Aggie fans, my family, my teammates in that position again," he said. "That injury is done. I was ready to go the next day. That’s football."
Stewart’s progress has been key for the Aggies, who have a priority to develop cornerback depth that so far has been underwhelming. Having at least one starter they can count on is a welcome relief for Shaver, especially.
"I tell my guys everything happens for a reason," Shaver said. "It’s going to build you as a person. That’s what he took it as. He took it as a learning experience, took a step back and looked at it from kind of a coaching perspective."
The journey Stewart took has become a part of the man himself. That identity — someone who has clawed and scratched to get where he is — is one he embraces.
"I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs," he said. "I’ve been a fighter for a minute, and I’ll never stop fighting."
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