Christian Stewart was bored, finishing out his final semester of school when the phone rang this week. The former BYU quarterback had his eyes on his future job and his mind on his fiancee when Stewart’s old position coach asked him about suiting up again.
The Cougars were extremely short-handed at quarterback for spring practices due to injuries when Jason Beck had the idea of bringing Stewart back. He started eight games in 2014 after Taysom Hill broke his leg in the fifth game of the season, so Stewart was only months removed from his playing career. Beck called to gauge Stewart’s interest then checked with the other coaches and the school’s compliance staff. The phone rang again and Beck told Stewart to come in.
“I was kind of in shock,” Stewart said Wednesday. “I didn’t think it was something that was possible. It was something I’d love to do. I love football. School is no fun just going to school. I felt like I was missing a big part of my life. I was happy to jump at the opportunity.”
The opportunity came when quarterback McCoy Hill suffered a foot sprain on the first day of spring practice Monday. He was taking the first-team snaps as starter Taysom Hill eases back from his injury. McCoy Hill will get a second opinion this week, but is expected to be out several weeks.
The only other quarterback available was sophomore Hunter Moore, but coaches have him running the scout team. The Cougars needed someone who could run the offense and help develop players on both sides of the ball.
The university’s compliance staff ruled that Stewart can participate in practice without violating NCAA rules, but cannot play next season.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall joked that he was calling former greats Steve Young and Ty Detmer and checking on their eligibility also.
“I said, ‘You’re like gum on my shoe,'” Mendenhall said with a laugh. “‘I can’t get rid of you. No matter if I pull it, I stretch it, it just snaps back.’ So we laughed. Talk about a loyal alumni. I think he was maybe more excited than I was that he gets to play football again. Our team, they already loved him before, now he’s like idol status.”
Taysom Hill is participating in drills and is considered ahead of schedule, but is not cleared for 11-on-11 work.
Stewart will run the full team periods and is an extra arm in drills with multiple receivers running routes. Mendenhall said he was initially worried about the progress of the rest of his team without a viable quarterback in live 11-on-11 workouts. The defense wouldn’t be tested properly and the offense wouldn’t develop.
The team will have plenty of quarterbacks in the fall. Taysom Hill will be recovered and they expect McCoy Hill to be also. Former star recruit Tanner Mangum will be back from a church mission and Beau Hoge, son of former Steelers running back Merril Hoge, is a member of the 2015 class. Moore gives the roster five signal-callers.
For now, Stewart has a cushy job. No film work. No weightlifting. He already knows the plays. Just show up shortly before practice and warm up with Beck.
“For a quarterback, practice is pretty fun,” Beck said. “Come out there, throw the ball around, have a good time. He obviously has a passion for the game and has worked so hard to play. Without practice, without football, a lot of these guys have all this free time now when they just go to school. So he’s kind of been bored.”
Stewart said his fiancee can attest to that.
“She’s excited,” Stewart said. “She knows that I’m bored every day and I’m always getting on her because she’s busy, and I want to see her because I have nothing else to do. She’s finally like, ‘Yes, he has something to do. He won’t be pestering me all the time.'”
Stewart held up well during his first practice Wednesday. It didn’t take much to get back in the groove after throwing for 2,621 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2014.
The stress of having to perform is gone, but he still wants to contribute.
“I don’t necessarily feel any pressure, especially because what are the coaches going to do? Yell at me?” Stewart said. “They can’t really get on me because I’m the one doing them a favor. But myself, I demand a lot out of myself.”