CLEMSON — 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 sustaining an ACL injury during his senior season.
He worked his way onto the field as a first-year freshman, but after playing in 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.
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-foot-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. And 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.