Before Yorktown All-Met RB/DB M.J. Stewart committed to the University of North Carolina in July, his mind was set on graduating early. But he needed a full year of English and a semester of U.S. Government to earn his diploma.
Stewart took it upon himself to knock out his English requirement over the summer, and Friday will mark the end of a highly successful three-year football career at Yorktown.
Since Coach Bruce Hanson quickly threw him in the mix after he transferred from nearby O’Connell as a sophomore, the elusive athlete has become one of the most prolific backs in the area. In three years he gained 4,866 rushing yards and scored 91 offensive touchdowns for the Patriots.
He is a repeat first-team All-Met running back for his offensive exploits, but will play cornerback when he steps on the Chapel Hill campus in less than a month.
“I love the intensity [of the defense], Stewart said of his decision to play corner. “And I love the swagger you play with as a defender. You stop an offense and get to see the disappointment on their faces.”
The idea of graduating early was first presented to Stewart’s father, Marvin, on a trip to Virginia Tech in January. Soon after, he pitched the idea to his son and Stewart responded by astutely handling his academics to complete high school in three and a half years.
He said he decided on the Tar Heels in the summer over Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Michigan State and Nebraska because he wanted to simply focus on being a high school student-athlete for his final semester.
It also helped that UNC didn’t relent in its pursuit of the three-star recruit. Chapel Hill first contacted Stewart in January of his junior year, and from that point on the coaching staff reached out to him at least once a week.
“I didn’t want to have to deal with [committing] in my senior year, I just wanted to chill,” Stewart said. “I didn’t want to go on visits and weigh out my options. I just wanted to represent my school.”
Enrolling early means Stewart will get the opportunity to jump into the football program before most of the other 20 freshmen in the Tar Heel 2014 recruiting class.
“The biggest thing about graduating early is I get to go right into their system and learn their plays,” Stewart said. “So when the other freshmen come in, I’m going to already know it, and it will give me an advantage over them.”
Stewart is likely to see a lot of playing time as a freshman, and could even start in defensive coordinator Dan Disch’s 4-2-5 defense. Hanson said the coaches informed him that the versatile athlete will return punts for the Tar Heels.
In the secondary, the 5-foot-11 ball hawk intercepted 10 passes as a junior, but with quarterbacks opting to not test Stewart, he totaled just two interceptions this past season.
Due to an ankle injury that lingered in the later part of the season, he played in 10 of the team’s 12 games and tallied 40 tackles and 15 pass breakups.
“They’re getting one of the best players in state,” Hanson said. “I think he’s the best because he’s so smart. He plays the game right and is fundamentally sound. He knows what you’re going to do before you do it on defense, and he’s a student of game.”
Stewart will drive down I-95 with his father on Jan. 5, and Monday Jan. 8 he will begin his college career. In the meantime he plans on spending time with his family – his mother lives in Philadelphia – and just enjoying his last days in Arlington.
“I’m going to miss the people,” Stewart said of his three years at Yorktown. “I’m going to miss the good times I had here. It was fun.”
NUMBER CRUNCH: 31
The number of wins Yorktown athlete M.J. Stewart accumulated as a starter while with the Patriots. Yorktown lost only five games in which he started. He played on two 12-win teams, won two district titles and reached the 2012 Northern Region Division 5 title game.
— Centreville linebacker Chad Wiggins set goals in the preseason and achieved them all, most recently committing to play at Richmond Tuesday.
— No. 18 Oakton junior guard Karlie Cronin has increased her scoring role in 2013-14 for the inexperienced Cougars. Ivy League schools Princeton and Pennsylvania are showing interest among others.
— Gonzaga ice hockey holds its place as the area’s No.1 team while getting used to playing with target on its back. Story here.
— River Hill’s wrestling duo of Cory Daniel and Logan Kirby are in different weight classes but training together has benefited both.
— M.J. Stewart was a first-team All-Met selection for the second straight year, and if you haven’t done so (but I’m sure you have), check him out and the entire 2013 Fall All-Met teams here.
VIDEO OF THE DAY
What No. 2 St. John’s lacks in size it makes up for in team chemistry and electric perimeter play. The Cadets are attempting to win the school’s first WCAC title since 2000.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
The Post’s top-ranked boys’ basketball team, Paul VI, opens play in the prestigious City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. against the Florida Class 6A state champions Miami Norland at 3:20 p.m.
Here is the full slate of top 20 Thursday action:
No. 5 Potomac (Md.) vs. Gwynn Park at 7 p.m.
No. 8 Potomac (Va.) at North Stafford at 7 p.m.
No. 11 Wise at Northwestern at 7:15 p.m.
No. 18 Robinson vs. Hylton at 7:30 p.m.
No. 5 Eleanor Roosevelt vs. Bowie 5 p.m.
No. 14 C.H. Flowers vs. Oxon Hill at 7 p.m.
No. 15 South River at Severna Park at 5 p.m.