Late in Saturday’s BYU football scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU senior quarterback Christian Stewart walked back to the line facing a third-and-15 from the defense’s 23-yard line.
There might’ve been a little frustration, since he had yet to lead a scoring drive for the No. 2 offense and this time he’d just picked up a first down at the 7-yard line on a scramble – only to have it called back by a penalty.
But Stewart just set up in the shotgun, took the snap and lofted the ball toward the left corner of the end zone, where junior wide receiver Devon Blackmon hauled it in beautifully for the touchdown.
It might’ve been the first chance many Cougar fans have had so far to see Stewart and Blackmon connecting for a big play, but it certainly has become a common sight during BYU’s 2014 fall camp.
Stewart said after practice on Thursday that Blackmon plays similarly to one of his favorite targets when he was in the junior college ranks and that makes the connection easier to develop.
He also couldn’t help but grinning when talking about the opportunities to throw those long passes.
“This is the style of football that I love to play,” he said. “If you watch any of my film from high school or down at Snow College, I throw the ball down the field. That’s where I find joy in football. I like to score touchdowns and so it’s been so much fun every day.”
The senior explained that knowing the weapons he has at receiver and the type of attack the Cougars are using gets him fired up about heading to work.
“Usually it’s a drag and you are dreading practice, but we go out and start with team right away,” Stewart said. “We’re just chucking balls up there. We’ve got guys going out and making plays. We have some burners on the outside. It’s going to be a fun year.”
There’s a different attitude to Stewart in 2014. He seems much more comfortable with what he is doing for BYU both on and off the field.
“I feel like I gained a lot of respect from not only the coaches, but from the other players,” Stewart said. “It makes a huge difference. They have confidence in me. I can feel that confidence and I really thrive off of it. I feel like I’ve been playing well this fall and I’m getting a lot of reps, so I’m really comfortable with the offense.”
That time on the field has turned into better performance, Stewart said.
“Every day I’ve been getting better, my completion percentage has been getting higher and I’ve been gaining more confidence,” he said. “I’m just getting ready to be the guy. That’s what you have to do as the second-string quarterback. You have to be ready to play in a split second.”
For Stewart, there is an interesting balance between accepting his role as the backup and his competitive fire to be the best.
“I’m a very driven person and I’m not OK with being mediocre,” he said. “I understand my position. I’m not going to beat Taysom out. It doesn’t matter if I completed every pass the rest of fall camp, I would not beat him out. I’ve accepted my position but I’m competing every day to get better. I want to be the best quarterback out there.”
Football is a rough game and Stewart understands and embraces the fact that BYU might turn to him at any time.
“Every team needs a great No. 2 quarterback,” Stewart said. “If you look at Utah and Utah State last year, their second-string guys came in and did horrible. I’m not planning on being that guy. If Taysom goes down, I’m planning on coming in and our offense is staying right in stride. We’re going to win games.”
Cougar quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said Stewart has shown the ability the team needed to see this year and he’s glad he has two returning QBs to look to.
“We really like what (Stewart) is doing,” Beck said. “He’s more similar to Taysom than he was last year, which is pretty nice. We can just have him jump in there, do the same stuff and keep everything rolling. Stewart has had a good camp and is playing well.”
Stewart did laugh a little at the comparison, saying he knows there are differences between his strengths and Hill’s strengths.
“I consider (Hill) a different style of quarterback than I am,” Stewart said. “I’m more comfortable in the pocket, whereas Taysom is explosive and can make more plays with his feet. I’m mobile and athletic, but I’m not going to make the 60-yard touchdown runs against Texas. I’m looking to pass, I want to pass but at the same time I can make the plays on my feet.”
His focus right now, however, is making sure he knows how to get the ball to the right guy.
“I need to tighten up my reads,” he said. “I know my reads on paper but then you get out there. I’m seeing all these new looks that I’ve never seen before because of the amount of reps I’m getting. There’s still a long ways to go until I get to where I’d like to be.”