By Richard Anderson
A solid ending to his freshman campaign had Brandon Stewart coming back with potential and anticipation as one of the top receivers for the Wyoming Cowboys.
But Stewart struggled at times in Dave Christensen's new offense, and before he knew it, he was down on the depth chart, with his playing time minimal.
But Stewart wasn’t down for long. In fact, he’s moved up on the depth chart at a different position -- running back.
After a shoulder injury sidelined him in 2008 for the first five games, Stewart had 13 catches for 251 yards in the final seven contests. After the first two games in 2009, Stewart had just two catches for 17 yards. It was not exactly the explosive start he and many thought he was ready to give.
In the last three games, Stewart has steadily improved as a running back, rushing for 17 yards against Colorado, 31 yards against UNLV and a team-high 79 yards in last week’s 30-28 win over Florida Atlantic University.
Whatever it takes to get on the field.
“I wasn’t on the field as much as I wanted to be. The changes they gave me, I wanted to give 100 percent every time, because I knew if I did that, I would get on the field more,” Stewart said. “I prepared myself to get out there and show them that I can play and I deserved to be on the field more.”
While he struggled at times this fall as a receiver, once the Cowboys became at full strength at the position, Stewart saw less and less time out on the field.
But Stewart had shown in the past that he could be a difference maker once he got his hands on the football and secured it.
Consequently, just give him the ball.
“I think they were trying to find a way to get me on the field,” Stewart said. “I couldn’t get on as much as a receiver, so they moved me to running back. I was ready to go. I’m enjoying it, it is fun.”
Stewart wasn’t upset with the position change, and in fact, embraced the move.
“I was definitely anxious to try it. I also enjoy having the ball in my hands, to be able to try to do something," he said. “As a receiver, you’re going to catch the ball and somebody is hanging on you or you are going to catch it out of bounds. It’s good to have the ball in your hand and see where you are going to go. I enjoy that.”
It certainly hasn’t been an easy transition, but learning the Wyoming blocking schemes is now beginning to pay off. Last week against FAU was proof of that.
It’s taken not only work on the field, but off the field. Stewart said he has had to “study up” on blocking schemes, which has been beneficial. Until then, he added, he would get the ball and just run to where he thought a hole would be open. Know he knows where he is supposed to go and where the whole is supposed to be open.
“Right when they moved me, it was kind of tough to figure out line fronts and what out linemen are going to do, how they line up,” he said. “Now, I am getting more comfortable figuring out how we’re blocking. Knowing our blocking schemes makes it a lot easier knowing where I have to go with the ball.”
It’s not like Stewart had never run the ball before, wither at Wyoming or in high school. He just hadn’t rushed it as a running back.
Now, when Stewart gets hit, its often from linemen and linebackers, rather than just defensive backs. And yes, he has noticed the difference.
“You definitely feel it after the game,” Stewart said. “You know you were in the trenches getting hit by the biggest guys out on the field. I think that is the biggest change. You definitely get hit more and you feel it more after the game. That’s why I try to stay low as much as possible.”
There has been a definite change in the Wyoming running attack, with quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels and fellow true freshman Alvester Alexander , No. 1 on the depth chart at running back, gaining much of the yardage as well.
Alexander and Stewart give the Cowboys a different attack, with Alexander more of a power and speed back, with Stewart a "downhill" speed back.
“I’m just downhill and hit the hole kind of runner. When we get inside the 20, he’s going to score. He puts points on the board for us.”
“I think he carries the ball really well. He’s a change of pace form Alvester," Carta-Samuels said. “I think they are different types of backs. Brandon is a special player. You see guys who work hard get rewarded. He is out there working his tail off. He’s embracing the role of running back and taking it to the next level.”
Last week, Alexander had just 50 yards rushing, but scored three times.
That’s fine with Stewart. He’d be more than content to gain yards in the middle of the field and let Alexander power his way into the end zone.
As long as someone scores.
“As long as we put points on the board, I’m happy,” he said.
The Cowboys are showing signs of improvement on offense, hence their two-game winning streak in which they have scored 30 points in both games.
Stewart said as a team that they are finally understanding what they have to do to get to where we need to be as a program.
Whether he is at receiver or running back, all Stewart wants to do is contribute to that success, instead of standing on the sidelines.
“Now that we have back-to-back wins, our team is feeling more confident and trusting each other. We’re ready to go again,” he said.