The biggest change in Da’Qon Stewart’s football career came in 10th grade at North Mecklenburg High. Up to then, Stewart thought he was fast. He ran 40 seconds in 4.6 seconds, and that’s rare in high school football.
But Stewart quickly found out that he needed to get even faster.
“I was at quarterback and it was read option,” said Stewart, now a 6-foot, 195-pound senior wide receiver committed to South Carolina. “So I just ran. I hit the sideline and (the defender) came at an angle. And he caught me. I was mad. We lost by a touchdown. I felt like if I didn’t get caught, we would’ve won.”
So during the winter of his sophomore year, Stewart began working with a speed coach, spending three two-hour training sessions each week dedicated to improving his straight ahead speed as well as his lateral quickness.
By the fall of his junior year, he had dropped his 40 time to 4.5 seconds. Now he runs a 4.4, elite for a college athlete. With sure hands to go with his top-notch speed, Stewart began to hear from some nationally familiar colleges who were after a player whom 247 Sports ranks as a 3-star national recruit and the No. 13 overall prospect in North Carolina.
But Stewart had long ago been sold on the Gamecocks.
“It’s just like a family feeling there,” he said. “I took my first visit there and it felt like home. It’s an hour and 30 away from my mom and my family. That’s why I committed there. I chose them over Louisville and Georgia Tech ... but my recruiting could’ve blown up, but I felt like I wanted to get it out of the way. I could’ve had all of the bigger schools like LSU and Georgia and Florida State, Florida, but I wanted to commit to the Gamecocks. I believe in (South Carolina coach Will) Muschamp.”
His senior season, so far, hasn’t gone the way he had hoped. Stewart suffered an ankle injury early in the season and has only played in three games, totaling 216 receiving yards and one touchdown. Stewart also has a punt return for a touchdown.
North Mecklenburg has struggled without its best player. The Vikings are 1-5, averaging just 16.8 points per game. Friday, Stewart will miss one of the biggest games of the season when North Meck plays at arch rival Hopewell (2-4, 0-2 I-MECK) and the winner of the “Shield Game” gets the “Shield of Victory” trophy the teams play for every year.
So for now, Stewart is concentrating on getting healthy and hopefully returning to finish the season strong. As a star athlete heading to a Power 5 school, he also knows he has influence on his classmates and he wants to honor that responsibility.
“At school,” he said, “when I see people who don’t get as much attention as other people, I say ‘What’s up’ to them. I said ‘Hey, how is your day going,’ because you never know how big you can impact somebody’s life just by saying hey.”
▪ At charlotteobserver.com/sports/high-school, see Stewart on the latest episode of “Riding With Recruits”