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Ready for new role, Gamecocks football commit from NC had to wait

South Carolina pledge Da’Qon Stewart has big plans for 2019

South Carolina Gamecocks football pledge Da'Qon Stewart is ready for his final high school season and to move on and play at USC. He's a top target at North Mecklenburg High School
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South Carolina Gamecocks football pledge Da'Qon Stewart is ready for his final high school season and to move on and play at USC. He's a top target at North Mecklenburg High School

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. Da’Qon Stewart was ready for the attention, ready for the double coverage, ready for the new role on a new-ish team, both in terms of his game and his leadership.

And yet, the South Carolina football pledge who sits less than a year from his Gamecocks career had to wait a hint longer for his last year that projects to bring some change.

The North Mecklenburg High School wide receiver was all ready to go on Friday. In his first game as his team’s top receiver. Then came the clouds, with lightning to the north and south. The opponent, Independence, was heading to the bus before the rain finally came, forcing his team to wait until Monday to start the thing.

And he approaches that last year looking to savor one big thing with something else on his mind.

“A lot of emotion because high school is fun,” Stewart said. “When you get to college it’s business. So right now in high school, your last year you have fun your last year because you get to college it’s all work, work, work and in college it’s next man up.

“It’s my senior year, I’m looking to have fun with it, be the best I can be.”

He’ll be stepping up as the No. 1 target on his squad for the first time.

Last year, the Vikings offense had Stewart and Justin Olson, a 6-foot-3 receiver who is now a freshman with Mack Brown’s North Carolina team. Olson had more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns (Stewart had 645 yards and five scores), and the then-senior took the lion’s share of the attention and double coverage.

But learning to adapt to that is something Stewart looks forward to, getting challenged in a different way.

“He knows he’s got to step up,” North Mecklenburg coach Eric Morman said. “He knows he’s going to get dealt with a little bit more than he did last year. And so you know, he knows how to handle it. You prepare for it. He’s seen what Justin went through last year.”

Morman has his own connection to Gamecocks football. Hailing from the Rockingham, North Carolina area, his high school teammate was a fellow named Melvin Ingram, who went on to a stellar career in Columbia and now the NFL.

Morman has also watched Stewart move to and grow into the position he’ll eventually play in college. Up until a few years ago, Stewart, a strapping, 6-foot-1 player, was a quarterback, so his development in route running is still an ongoing process.

“I can play anything on the offensive side,” Stewart said. “I played receiver when I was younger. You know how when you’re younger, you play everything? That’s what I did. So it’s an easy transition.”

Morman didn’t rule out the possibility of putting Stewart behind center a bit this season, just to get the team’s fastest player in the center of things. And the coach said his player’s versatility could be an asset anywhere on a college field.

“Da’Qon has so much potential as a receiver or as a defensive back, wherever they decide to play him at,” Morman said, noting Stewart possesses a natural ability to catch footballs.

“He blew up really fast. He’s going to be a really great player.”

One thing that Stewart said he dove into wholeheartedly was the blocking aspects of his job.

Look at him, and he’s a stocky player, big in the lower body. That and his ability to play taller than he is invokes some references to Deebo Samuel, but when he was on campus, he connected with OrTre Smith, a towering receiver in the 225 pound range.

Like Smith, Stewart has an interest in moving folks around, using his build and weight to his advantage. And where some receivers don’t see the point of giving their bodies when there might not be a payout, Stewart is a fan of complementary football.

“We’re going to kill them with the run game a little bit and then when they open it up, go catch the ball,” Stewart said.

He considers South Carolina offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon a big brother of sorts, someone who doesn’t mind getting on players if need be. Louisville is still coming after him, trying to flip his commitment, but Stewart says he’s solid.

Beyond being that No. 1 target, leadership will be a big word for him this season. The Vikings have a younger roster by and large, and as an SEC-bound star player, more falls to him.

“ It’s very important to continue to lead in the right ways,” Morman said. “Do the right things because everybody’s watching him. They watch to see what he does, if he’s gonna be on time, he’s gonna be late. But so far he’s done a good job of being here, leading the group and, I can tell most of our team, everybody is going to follow him.”

The coach noted he expects anyone who played QB to have some natural sense of leadership.

It’s a spot that might well prepare Stewart for the next level in a certain way. His final season should be the one where he’s most comfortable, most settled and knows most what he’s doing. Yet he’ll be asked to step into a new role and to lead in a way he never has.

He’ll take the field Monday night at 6, launching into a season with one of the toughest league slates in North Carolina. But facing that, he brings a kind of confidence in the face of what’s next.

“This year, it’s a lot more on my shoulders,” Stewart said.Because I’m an older dude. I gotta like step out, so I feel like I just got to go and catch balls and be me. I can’t like look like, ‘Oh, dang. What If I’m not him?’ Because I’m not Justin. So I can’t be like Justin. I’ve just got to go out and be myself.”

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