Anwar Stewart - Defensive End - 2002-2011 - Kentucky
The Alouettes' Anwar Stewart has become "rejuvenated," - Montreal Gazette - Herb Zurkowsky - Oct 15, 2011
Anwar Stewart always knew there was something better out there waiting for him. And he understood life as he knew it, growing up in Panama City, Fla., couldn't continue to exist.
He could have succumbed so many times and taken the easy way out. He has never known or met his father, more than 35 years later. All he knows of him is that he signed the birth certificate, after Stewart was born, and vanished. Stewart's mother, meanwhile, began experimenting with drugs when he reached high school.
He remembers coming home one day, a junior in high school, to find guys he associated with, people he thought were his friends, selling drugs to his mother. And Stewart remembers his mother breaking into his room, stealing a gold chain from him so she could pawn it, using the cash to purchase drugs.
He was highly recruited coming out of high school, but Stewart's mother never came to his games. And when he finally decided on the University of Kentucky, when Stewart had one bag and a small, portable television tucked under his arms and was about to leave, he remembers his mother, sleeping on the couch, refusing to awaken to give the teenager a proper sendoff.
"I took off and I never turned back. It helped me grow up," the Alouettes' veteran rush-end said during a lengthy and candid interview Friday at Olympic Stadium. "I became a man at an early age. For the four, five years I was at Kentucky, I couldn't have talked to her more than four or five times."
Stewart studied psychology and social work at Kentucky, not so much to pursue careers in either - he was going to play football or enter the military - but, instead, to understand what Debra Stewart was enduring, the demons she was battling.
"My mother was beautiful ... Halle Berry beautiful. She won beauty pageants," Stewart said, looking forlornly into the distance. "But then she started hanging out with the wrong people and doing drugs. I couldn't understand it. So I majored in psychology and social work so I could understand.
"It was a sickness and she needed help."
They reconciled some years ago, after she removed the drug albatross from around her neck and rediscovered God, and the two now talk frequently. Stewart was there for his mother some 18 months ago, when she developed an aneurysm, bleeding from both sides of the brain. And she'll be there, for him, next May, when Stewart turns his back on life as a bachelor to marry his Montreal fiancée, Lamya. They've dated for two years, after Stewart's previous three-year relationship broke up.
"I don't feel like I'm 35, so it's time to get married," he explained. "But I honestly feel she's the one. I've never felt this way about a woman. I want to be around her, do stuff with her and for her."
The pieces, slowly but surely, are coming together for Stewart, both personally and professionally. Now in his 11th Canadian Football League season, all but one of his games having been played for Montreal, the 6-foot-2, 251 pounder's playing some of the finest football of his career.
Heading into Sunday's game (1 p.m., TSN, RDS, CJAD Radio-800) against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Molson Stadium, Stewart's second on the team in quarterback sacks, with six, and has made 24 defensive tackles. He's intercepted one pass, recovered a fumble, forced another and knocked down a pair of passes. He also has two tackles for losses.
Since complaining to The Gazette over what he perceived to be a lack of playing time, following a humbling Labour Day loss at Hamilton, Stewart has elevated his game, almost playing like a man possessed. Five of his sacks have come in the Als' last four games along with 12 of his tackles. He also has recorded 17 of his season's 30 hits over that span. Montreal's on a three-game winning streak.
"The guy looks like he's rejuvenated," said defensiveline coach Mike Sinclair, himself a standout defensive lineman for 12 seasons in the NFL - 11 with Seattle - before retiring in 2002 at age 33. "He's playing really good football and has a high production grade. You have to go with that. He makes plays. He's a factor."
It was Sinclair, along with defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar, and likely with the approval of head coach Marc Trestman, who decided last winter that Stewart would have to accept a diminished role in 2011. Although he registered six sacks and recovered two fumbles the year before, while the Als were winning their second consecutive Grey Cup, the staff believed Stewart wasn't winning enough one-on-one battles. They proposed he become a backup, even moving inside, to tackle, during some situations.
General manager Jim Popp placed the call to Stewart last January, before he was scheduled to receive a bonus, telling him he would have to restructure his contract. Popp, according to Stewart, also offered a position in the team's front office should he choose to retire. Instead, Stewart took what he called a significant salary reduction, but also stressed some of the money can be recouped through incentive clauses. The contract expires next season, and Stewart fully intends to continue playing, somewhere.
But he also feels slighted, a pawn caught in the middle of some unfair business decisions. He believes his starting job shouldn't have been given away, that he should have been allowed to prove himself at training camp, and clearly has used these supposed injustices as motivation.
"All of these things have put a lot of fuel on the fire. I'm determined to show what I can do," Stewart said. "It wasn't right that they gave my job away.
"They're getting a great player for cheap. At the same time, guys that are unproven, they're throwing money at. It's like they wanted a reason to release me. Some (in the organization) want to see me fail ... but that's not going to happen. I won't let them get the satisfaction of pushing me to retire."
Stewart's longevity is no fluke. The league's outstanding defensive player in 2004, and the East Division nominee for the same award in 2009 at age 33, Stewart has changed his workout regimen and diet. He takes yoga in the winter while visiting the team's strength and conditioning coach four times per week. He has cut out fried foods, bread and sweets. The only meat he consumes must be vegetable-and grain-fed. Stewart said his energy level has never been so high.
"He's the consummate pro," Sinclair said. "The guy's passionate, and that overrules everything. The guy's healthy and he's a hell of a player. Something happens when he's out there. What coach wouldn't want that? He's venturing into rare territory."
Anwar Stewart was released by the Montreal Alouettes in January 2012.
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