BYU senior Christian Stewart started 2014 with some hard decisions.
On the one hand, he was a quarterback on the Cougar football team, something thousands of kids dream of becoming.
But on the other, he was the third-string guy, wasn’t seeing a lot of reps and didn’t know where football was going to take him.
He had to consider his future.
“I came back to BYU because of the academics here,” Stewart said after practice Monday. “I’m in the accounting program here and so I had to decide whether football was important enough to keep playing. I had some internship offers this summer with some big firms out in Los Angeles and it was really just a matter of priorities.”
In the end, Stewart explained that he had to go with his heart.
“I really love football so I decided I wanted to keep going, keep the dream alive,” he said.
That choice became more significant in late January — not just for Stewart but for the Cougar program — when BYU backup quarterback Ammon Olsen decided to transfer to Southern Utah.
“It ended up working out,” Stewart said. “Now I’m second-string and really sitting in a good spot.”
Cougar starting quarterback Taysom Hill said he knows how big it’s been for “Stew” to be in his current position.
“I know he’s excited,” Hill said. “He had mixed emotions last season and coming into this season. He didn’t really know what he was going to do. He had some opportunities to further his education and progress that way, but when that (Ammon’s transfer) transpired, it opened up an alley for him to get some playing time and battle for a spot. I think he’s excited and looking forward to it.”
BYU quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said he talked with Stewart about his choices but he’s confident that the senior has no regrets.
“He’d come in and talk with me, especially as things were winding down,” Beck said. “He’s getting into his senior year, thinking about jobs and summer internships and all those things. But he’s all in with our team and what we’re doing. He’s a valuable part of it. He’s committed, working hard and it’s a great opportunity for him.”
That window might’ve been much different if Olsen had chosen to remain in Provo, but Stewart said he was close to the former Cougar and understood what Olsen was going through.
“We were good friends and lived in the same house together, so we talked a lot,” Stewart said. “It was always a possibility because he’s a competitive guy and he wants to play. He doesn’t want to sit behind Taysom. It wasn’t a surprise to me when he left. I’m really happy for him. He’s in a really good spot and I hope everything goes well for him.”
But now that backup quarterback job is Stewart’s to lose and that’s brought an extra motivation, according to Beck.
“It opened up an opportunity for him where he’s now the next guy up,” Beck said. “You never know how things are going to go. He’s definitely worked hard, but he’s that way anyways. You can tell he’s just that much more focused on his preparation and practicing.”
Hill said he’s seen a lot of big strides for Stewart.
“He’s a great teammate,” Hill said. “He’s been a good friend to me. He’s my lifting partner and I think Christian and I are a good combo. He wants me to succeed and do well and I want the same for him. He sees things that I don’t when I’m on the field and he lets me know. It works both ways. He’s gotten a lot better and he’s a good quarterback.”
Hill explained that the quarterbacks work together, seeing the whole field while the other guy is under center and more zeroed in on a particular area of the field.
The team portion of practice has been a short set of three or four plays before one unit comes off and the other trots on. Beck explained that it was organized for conditioning purposes but it could be a big boost for Stewart.
“The QBs are getting more balanced reps and that’s good for Stew because it ensures he’ll get a lot of work in this spring,” Beck said.
The senior said the benefits of having such a steady rotation have been dramatic.
“It makes night-and-day difference being able to run our offense against the first and second-team defenses, rather than going in with the third team like I was last year,” Stewart said. “There you’re not getting an actual look. It’s been a lot of fun this spring, being able to get reps, being in the flow of the game rather than being the third series or getting in for two or three plays.”
Now he’s really locked in on cleaning up the mistakes and getting better.
“I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anyone,” Stewart said. “It’s more about tightening up the details of our offense. I need to tighten up some things with my footwork and just know the reads backwards and forwards, so if I guy isn’t in the right place, I’m moving him. I need to have all of those details down this spring.”
Beck said he wants to see the No. 2 quarterback get to a point this spring where they can rely on him to be consistent.
“He’ll come out and do some really good things, then he’ll come back and make some mistakes on some things that he should know and should be able to execute better,” Beck said. “That will come as he gets more reps and more opportunities in practice. If we can get him to be better in his execution and his decisions, we feel really comfortable with him back there.”
Hill said he’s hoping both he and Stewart improve on their quarterbacking fundamentals.
“I think it’s decision-making and accuracy,” Hill said. “Every quarterback needs to continue to get better at that. We’re just all at different levels. I think that once Stew cleans up his accuracy and decision-making, he’ll be a lot better. He’s already really good but those are things that will help him improve.”
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said he likes where the senior is at and the direction he’s going.
“I think everyone on the staff is encouraged (with Stewart) and gaining momentum and confidence in him by what we see,” he said.
It appears the summer internship and the accounting opportunities will have to wait a little while longer while Stewart stays with the gridiron — no matter how difficult a choice it was.
“It was a really hard decision but I’m really glad with where I’m at now,” Stewart said.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.