The first day was the worst.Antwan Stewart (Potomac ’02) stepped out on the field for the beginning of spring football practice last month at the University of Tennessee and quickly found himself under siege by a flurry of receivers whizzing past him on one deep route after another.
“They were throwing balls all over me,” said Stewart, a redshirt freshman defensive back. “It was bad. To my left, to my right. I was struggling.”
But the 6-foot, 180-pound Stewart didn’t stay down for long.
Encouraged by his teammates and coaches and fueled by his own competitiveness and a tireless work ethic, Stewart began working on correcting his mistakes. Soon, the improvement was apparent and by the time of the Volunteers’ spring game April 12, two things had happened.
Stewart had been selected as one of Tennessee’s two most improved defensive players. He learned of that the day before the spring game when a local reporter asked him about it.
The second big news took place that same day courtesy of Tennessee defensive backs coach Larry Slade. Slade let Stewart know that as of now he’s penciled in as the Volunteers’ starting right cornerback.
“They told me at the start of spring practice I might have a shot, but I had to step it up and listen to what everyone had to say,” Stewart said.
What’s most amazing about Stewart’s quick rise up the Tennessee depth chart is that it almost didn’t happen.
Stewart had to wait a month to find out whether he could be on scholarship at Tennessee. A 10th grade math course from a high school he attended in Florida had left things in limbo until the NCAA Clearinghouse ruled that the course was worth a full credit, giving him enough to have the necessary core-class requirements to go with his GPA and SAT marks to meet freshman eligibility.
Stewart didn’t find out until last August 29, but by then the football team had been practicing for almost a month and was preparing for its season opener in two days against Wyoming.
“Had he been here on time that would have made a big difference,” Slade said. “For most of the year, he was on the scout team. Until now.”
Stewart is the most inexperienced player among the four defensive backs slated to start in the fall, but Slade saw a player who was ready now to step in.
“In our system, what we do in the secondary determines what we do on defense,” Slade said.
“Our guys have to be mentally tough and have a good understanding of what’s going on and make plays. He’s a guy who wants to win.”
Stewart, who didn’t miss a tackle during spring practice, knows he can’t get complacent. The competition is too stiff. There’s a junior-college transfer who will be coming in who could pose a threat.
There were other players who missed spring practices because of track, but they will be in the mix come the fall as well.
“I can’t let down,” Stewart said. “I have to stay on my feet.”
Then there’s the season itself. Tennessee starts off with three straight pass-happy teams: Fresno State (Aug. 30), Marshall (Sept. 6) and Florida (Sept. 20).
“I’m going to get broken in right away,” Stewart said.
Jennifer Steele (Manassas Park ’01) recorded her first collegiate no-hitter a week ago in Longwood College’s 9-0 win over Lees-McRae (N.C.). Steele finished with four strikeouts and no walks in five innings.
Matt Kleweno (Woodbridge ’99) won his third game of the season Saturday. The Campbell University senior improved to 3-5 after allowing four hits and going the distance in a 6-1 win over Belmont University. Kleweno has a 2.92 ERA and 38 strikeouts this season.
A number of local performers excelled last weekend at the Colonial Athletic Association Championships.
In the men’s meet, William & Mary senior Phil Agee (Brooke Point ’99) won the decathlon (6,424 points), while junior teammate Aaron Spicer (Woodbridge ’00) was second with 5,292 points.
James Madison University’s Eric Braxton (Brooke Point ’99) won the 400 meters with a time of 47.86 seconds. With that mark, Braxton also qualified for the NCAA Eastern Regional Championships and for the IC4A Championships.
Aaron Lindsey (Hylton ’00) joined Braxton to help the Dukes to a second-place finish in the 1,600-meter relay (3:15.98).
In the women’s meet, Naomi Mattos (Woodbridge ’01) was a member of William & Mary’s 400-meter relay team that took third (48.53). She was also fifth in the long jump (17-113/4) as the Tribe won their third straight conference title.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference championships last weekend, Virginia’s Dawn Cleary (Woodbridge ’98) won the steeplechase. Cleary’s time of 10:06.08 was the second fastest in school history and just three seconds off her own school record.
Cleary also finished fourth in the 5K.
Duke’s Danny Fowler (Woodbridge ’99) was fourth in the 800-meter run, recording a personal-best time of 1:51.71 that qualified him for the IC4A Championships in May. He also ran the lead-off leg on the Blue Devils’ 1,600-meter relay team that had its best time of the season (3:19.61) after finishing eighth.
At the meet with Navy and Air Force April 5, Lauren Rowe (Gar-Field ’99) won three events for Army and placed third in another.
Rowe won the 100-meter hurdles (14.42, second fastest time in school history), the 400-meter hurdles (1 minute, 4.16 seconds, sixth fastest in school history) and the high jump (5-7, fourth-best in school history).
To cap things off, she was third in the triple jump (36-2).
David Hooper (Gar-Field ’01) was named to the Patriot League All-Rookie team. He is the first player from Navy to make that team since 2000.
Hooper averaged 5.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
Long Island University’s Tamika Dudley (Woodbridge ’99) has been named to the All-Met team for a school-record third time.
Dudley led the team in scoring (15.9 ppg) and rebounding (9.3).
David Fawcett’s They’re In College Now column appears Fridays in the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8052 or at [email protected]