It’s been fun to just play football for the love of the game. No pressure, no stress and just play like I like to play, throwing the ball around. It’s been a very rewarding experience. – Christian Stewart
PROVO — Officially, BYU quarterback Christian Stewart’s final collegiate pass was an interception at the end of the Miami Beach Bowl last December in a 55-48 double-overtime loss.
But after deciding to make a personal sacrifice and help out the Cougars during spring practices even though his eligibility was exhausted — who had ever heard of such a thing? — Stewart was able to sling some more passes in a BYU uniform.
In the final scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium back in March, Stewart completed 21 of 31 passes for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His last throw, a swing pass to running back Nate Carter, went for a TD.
For Stewart, that’s one he will always remember.
“It’s fun for me, last time out,” he said at the end of spring practices. “I wanted to have a good showing, not necessarily for the fans but for myself. I can go away and those are the things that I’ll take with me … My last pass was a touchdown now.”
Stewart had to adjust his class schedule and hold off on taking the GMAT, the graduate business school admissions test, in order to participate in his final spring fling. On top of that, he was planning his upcoming wedding.
In May, Stewart was one of four BYU players — along with wide receiver Jordan Leslie, punter Scott Arellano and long-snapper Kevin O’Mary — to be recognized by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame as members of the 2015 NFF Hampshire Honor Society, comprised of players who maintained a cumulative 3.2 GPA or better during their college career.
Somehow, Stewart was able to balance his rigorous academic schedule and spring ball.
“I would have liked to have taken (the GMAT) at the end of (April). But with football and school stuff, I wasn’t able to get the studying done I wanted to,” Stewart said. “But it’s fine. It’s definitely a sacrifice I was willing to take. It’s been fun for me.”
Stewart's "have gun, will travel" mentality was seen outside of Provo, too, as he threw for Utah receiver Dres Anderson in front of NFL scouts as Anderson prepared for the NFL draft.
Stewart’s contributions to the Cougars this spring — on both sides of the ball — are difficult to overstate, BYU coaches said.
“I’m really excited about the progress we were able to make as a team in spring football,” said offensive coordinator Robert Anae. “We could not have done that without Christian Stewart helping and coming back.”
“If Christian would not have practiced with us this spring, I wouldn’t have known how strong our receivers were,” said head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “I wouldn’t have known where our secondary stood, which needs a lot of work. I wouldn’t have known the athleticism, or lack thereof, at linebacker. I wouldn’t have seen the leadership and experience of a senior quarterback running a team. The acceleration and the discovery of what our team really was wouldn’t have happened without him. That’s really the story of the spring.”
In appreciation for Stewart's help, Mendenhall said he will give Stewart a lifetime supply of fall camp gear, including T-shirts and shorts, “as long as I’m coach.”
Added Mendenhall, “He’s easy to please.”
No doubt, Stewart had an unusual career at BYU. While growing up in Orem, Stewart was a huge Cougar fan and he walked on at BYU. But when he realized he probably wasn't going to get a chance to play, he transferred to Snow College, where he enjoyed an impressive career. He returned to BYU but didn't receive a scholarship until last summer.
Stewart replaced Taysom Hill as BYU’s starter after Hill suffered a season-ending knee injury in early October. Stewart guided the Cougar offense through the final eight games of the season and then enjoyed time with his teammates this spring.
“I’ve really loved the spring just because there hasn’t been any pressure,” he said. “Whereas in the football season, being BYU’s starting quarterback, you feel so much pressure. If you have a bad game, you lose. That’s the bottom line. It’s been fun to just play football for the love of the game. No pressure, no stress and just play like I like to play, throwing the ball around. It’s been a very rewarding experience.”
The coaches turned to Stewart knowing that Taysom Hill would be limited during spring drills. Then McCoy Hill sustained a foot injury on the first day of spring practices, leaving walk-on Hunter Moore as the only quarterback available for 11-on-11 action.
“No offense to Hunter, but Hunter just doesn’t have the experience that I have running a Division I offense,” Stewart said. “I feel like guys would have had to work a lot harder on their own to perfect their trade. There’s no substitute for getting those reps in an 11-on-11, live experience. I feel like I was able to help set the stage for what the offense needs to expect next year, especially with new guys coming in. We needed leadership on the offense and I’m glad I was able to provide that.”
At the conclusion of spring practices, Stewart said his plans were to take the GMAT at the end of May, get married in June and move to San Francisco in July.
Now, Stewart can put football in the rearview mirror and finally ride off into the sunset after capping his career with a cameo appearance during spring ball.
Mendenhall was grateful for Stewart’s willingness to help the program.
“There’s the slogan, ‘Loyal, Strong and True.’ I don’t know how you can be any more loyal than Christian has been,” Mendenhall said. “The true part is, the guy was just glad to do it. He cherished every minute to help and be with our team. It’s so fun to have people that want to help because they really care about what we’re doing. I’d like a whole team of people, not only in our building but on the field with guys like him. He’s amazing.”