Listen to the full interview at the bottom of the article
Christian Stewart reacted normally when Taysom Hill was tackled by USU safety Brian Suite and was rolled up on his left leg Oct. 3. With less than three minutes remaining in the first half against Utah State, Stewart sprinted to grab his helmet and then ran onto the field. He never dreamed this was how he’d get his chance.
BYU’s offense suddenly fell to the responsibility of an unproven, untested senior, who, up to this point, had not completed a single pass as a Cougar. But with accolades earned at the high school and junior college level, Stewart entered the game experienced and qualified.
Stewart finished the night against the Aggies going 10 for 29, with three interceptions, but rebounded well against Central Florida a week later. He completed 22 of 37 passes, threw for three touchdowns and posted an efficiency rating of 115.53 in the Cougars’ 31-24 overtime loss in Orlando.
“Honestly it was a huge relief to get that first (touchdown) out of the way,” Stewart said. “My confidence skyrocketed, and I was able to play football like I normally play.”
The senior from Orem amassed 153 yards through the air against UCF, averaging 4.1 yards per attempt. On the opening drive of the second half Stewart made a key play with his legs as he ran to his left and gained 11 yards for the first down. Six plays later, Stewart would throw his first touchdown to Colby Pearson, tying the game at ten. He threw two more in the second half, but the Cougars lost in overtime, 31-24.
Stewart comes from a Latter-day Saint background and grew up in Orem. His parents met while serving missions in Switzerland. Stewart is the fifth of six children.
He went to Timpanogos High School, where he played football and baseball. Football became his real passion during his sophomore year. During the first game of the season, the coaches asked Stewart to fill in after the starter tore his ACL.
“Baseball was always my passion and something I’d always thought I’d pursue, but once I played varsity and felt the atmosphere of the football game I never looked back,” Stewart said. “Baseball was an afterthought. I wanted to pursue football, so I gave it my all.”
Stewart spent the summer refining his quarterback play. Accompanied by his father, he would arrive at practice at 6 a.m. and run through a regiment of 500 throws.
“It was a great father-son (bonding) opportunity,” his father said. “I would tell him (jokingly), you’d have to make some adjustments because your receivers in the game won’t be quite as fast as me.”
Stewart broke numerous records and put up stellar numbers in high school mentored by former BYU backup quarterback Royce Bybee. Stewart threw for 44 touchdowns and averaged 323 passing yards a game in his senior year.
His road to becoming the Cougars’ starting quarterback is one with many twists and turns.
Stewart redshirted his freshman year and played quarterback for the scout team in 2008.
“I met with (quarterback coach Brandon) Doman before I left on my mission and asked him about scholarships upon returning home,” he said. “He said he didn’t see why I couldn’t get one right when I got home.”
Stewart returned home from the Japan Tokyo mission and reported for spring camp in 2011. The Cougars already had five quarterbacks on scholarship and additionally offered Taysom Hill and Ammon Olsen scholarships. Stewart, buried at the bottom of the depth chart, didn’t see a single rep during spring practices.
Toward the end of spring activities, he was faced with the dilemma of quitting football or transferring. As Stewart contemplated his decision, a former high school coach informed him Snow College was willing to offer him scholarship if he was to transfer.
“It hurt knowing that BYU didn’t value me enough to invest scholarships in me and even brought on two new quarterbacks,” Stewart said.
In the end, Stewart did what he believed was best and transferred to Snow College. He started only one game his first season, but he diligently worked and prepared for the next. He earned the starting position at Snow College after leading his team to a 17-14 come-from-behind win in the spring game.
Snow College went 11-1 with Stewart at the helm. He tossed 39 touchdowns as the Badgers went on to finish third in the National Junior College Athletic Association rankings. They defeated the ASA College of Brooklyn in the Carrier Dome Bowl, and Stewart was named MVP of the game.
“I decided that after (my time) at Snow College I had my fun playing football and there were bigger things in life, like getting the best degree I could,” Stewart said. “I decided that was here at BYU, so I quit football and came back to pursue an accounting degree.”
At the end of spring ball Stewart had the highest GPA on the team at 3.82.
Surprisingly it wasn’t a scholarship that brought Stewart back to the BYU football team, but a Sunday school teacher. After returning to BYU, Stewart attended church with his family, where BYU football’s strength and conditioning coach, Jay Omer, taught the Sunday school lesson.
“I was walking out of class when he said to me, ‘Christian, come here,’” Stewart said. “Everyone had gone, and he told me that (BYU) needed three quarterbacks in their new system and they only had two. ‘I’m going into the coaching staff tomorrow and telling them we need you.’”
Stewart interviewed with coach Bronco Mendenhall, who reinstated him onto the team later that week.
“I was excited to be back with some of my best friends that were still on the team,” Stewart said. “It was fun to be back with them.”
Now that Stewart has a game and a half under his the belt, the team has had time to adapt to his play style. His receivers have more continuity and chemistry with him, but it is still a work in progress, according to Stewart.
“We trust Christian a lot and know he can go out there and make a lot of plays,” junior receiver Mitch Matthews said.
With holes almost everywhere on the roster due to injuries, and good teams still remaining on the schedule, Stewart needs to rely on his experience to get him through the rest of the season.
“We still have some really good teams on our schedule,” Stewart said. “We need to make plays, put up points, win those games, get to a good bowl game and take it one day at a time. We have guys that stepped in and filled in great, but everyone needs to execute at a higher level. We need every guy to be doing his part.”
Stewart’s parents have been attending BYU football games at LaVell Edwards Stadium since 1978, watching BYU greats Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon and other quarterbacks wow crowds.
“We’re planning on going to every game. It’s been a really wonderful experience as a family to enjoy his sports career,” said Diane Stewart, mother of Christian Stewart. “We’re already thinking how empty it’s going to be next year.”