Chris Stewart can’t help but embrace the grind of football, even in early April, when it means weightlifting and staying in shape months before any games begin.
This is what the 6-foot-4, 325-pound guard wants in his life, what he missed last year after the Jets cut him during training camp. Stewart has already tried the grind of real life, taking a year of law school while playing football at Notre Dame. He is intelligent and someday, will get his law degree.
But Stewart is also smart enough to know doing both doesn’t work right now.
“(The law) is a hell of a profession,” Stewart said, sitting in front of his locker after a recent workout. “They didn’t cut me any slack in the school. Good in the long run, yes, but would I do it again? No way.”
Stewart smiles as he says it. There are few who would even think to try it in the first place. He got his bachelor’s degree in history and political science in just three years at Notre Dame, and after redshirting his freshman year on the football field, he ended up with two years of football eligibility left with every option open for classes.
The first year he took grad school courses trying to find his life’s direction, including some law courses. The next year – his senior year on the football field – he decided to work out the logistics, take the LSAT, and enter Notre Dame’s law school.
“I can say I got my degree, but football was so much more important than academics,” Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly told USA Today in 2010, recounting his own college football playing days. “The balance (Stewart) has to keep, I can’t even fathom how he’s able to do that.”
It wasn’t easy, and one of the reasons Stewart is ready to back-burner his twin approaches to the future. Football is his life now, and, as much as he has accomplished in school, the sport has always been his first passion. The lockout didn’t help his chances as an undrafted rookie last season.
The Cardinals signed Stewart to a “futures” contract in early January, and with the team’s upheaval on the offensive line, Stewart is hopeful he can find a way on to the roster.
“A lot of times, the guys coming out of college, it takes them one or two years to make that adjustment,” Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm said.
Stewart’s mother, Lusia, played on the U.S. women’s silver-medal winning basketball team in the 1976 Olympics and is in the basketball Hall of Fame. His whole family is into basketball, Stewart said, and he was the “black sheep” for being into football.
It was a natural fit, both for his brains and his brawn.
“I like to hit, love the violence of it,” Stewart said. “I’m just an old-school player. I love the contact, love to be able to dissect the game, to understand a lot about the game, breaking down defensive schemes and offensive sets. I love my job.”
That’s where the law school portion of his life collided with his mentality. He acknowledged he was thought of as an “egghead” in school, and law school did nothing to dispel that perception. But when it leads anyone to question his passion for the game, “it (ticks) me off.”
“There are few things I will lose my temper over,” Stewart said, “but that is one of them.”
Intelligence fits on the offensive line, where players must be adjusting and reading technique, schemes and defensive formations often. Grimm did admit, however, this will be the first time he’s been around a lawyer-to-be.
“That’s what scares me a little bit, because obviously he’s smarter than I am,” Grimm said with a grin. “Maybe he can teach me a few things, I don’t know.”
Where Stewart actually finishes law school isn’t as certain. Tuition alone for a year of law school at Notre Dame is around $46,000, “all fine and dandy when they are paying for it on scholarship” Stewart noted, but more harsh for an athlete fighting to stick.
Then again, if Stewart can carve out an NFL career, the bills that come with a return to school might be a little easier with which to deal.
“If I don’t go back to law school for 10 years, I will be happy,” Stewart said. “We’ll see.”