When UC was going through quarterbacks last year like George Clooney goes through girlfriends, the team adopted the rallying cry, "Next Man In." Those words are even engraved on the side of their Orange Bowl rings.
One year later, that slogan is still a big part of the team's identity and it doesn't only apply to the quarterback position. Case in point: the sensational performance by "Cat" linebacker Walter Stewart in the 28-18 win at Oregon State.
Stewart replaced the injured Curtis Young and the redshirt freshman was credited with 2 ½ sacks and a forced fumble in his first college start.
"It was a little nerve-racking, but after the first couple of series I was alright and ready to go," Stewart told me after the game. "Our motto is 'Next Man In' and you always have to be ready, so when Curtis was playing I was always right behind him making sure I knew what I was supposed to do. People probably don't know about me, but my teammates do and that's all that matters."
"We knew that Walt can really play," senior Andre Revels said. "He comes with a lot of energy and he's just a fun guy to play with and I'm glad he's getting his opportunity. We hope that Curtis gets back soon, but "Next Man In" is the system and it's working out really well."
Stewart is a tremendous story. When he was a young kid, he was seriously injured when he was attacked by a dog. As a teenager, he was separated from his mother after an incident at home and placed with foster parents Keith and Lynn Fields who helped to raise him in Ashville, OH near Columbus.
Despite having 17 sacks and forcing 6 fumbles as a senior at Teays Valley High School, Stewart was not heavily recruited . . . 6'5", 195 pound linebacker/defensive ends usually aren't.
"Akron and Youngstown State were the only two offers I had," Walter said. "Once Cincinnati offered me a scholarship, I jumped at it."
UC assistant coach Tim Hinton recruited Stewart after getting a tip from his high school coach Steve Evans.
"I've known (Evans) since he was in diapers," Hinton told me. "He's a friend of the family and I've known him his entire life. Walter is his first Division 1 player so we had to take everything he was saying about how good Walter was going to be with a little bit of a grain of salt because he's never really seen a Division 1 player before."
It didn't take long for Hinton to become a believer, even though Stewart was only rated as a 2-star prospect by rivals.com.
"The thing about college football is - you just never really know," Hinton said. "You don't know how they'll handle the adjustment to the speed of the college game and the volume of work. Walter really handled it better from day one than I thought he would. You could have a 5-star recruit and you could have a no star recruit . . . you don't really know who they are until you get them on campus. You could tell from his first practice that this kid had something in him that's going to allow him to develop because he just had the mental and physical toughness to work through adversity every day."
While redshirting last year, Stewart was named the Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year while getting bigger and stronger.
"You probably can't tell, but I've gained 30 pounds since I've been at Cincinnati," Stewart said with a grin. "I'm up to 225 pounds and I'll be 250 or 260 next year guaranteed."
"I think he's grown over an inch since he's been on campus and obviously his weight is going to continue to change," coach Hinton said. "He looks good in a uniform and he's going to be here for a long time. His work ethic and his ability to do the little things that some athletes can't do - he has the ability to do them. The sky's the limit for this kid."
Curtis Young has already had knee surgery and the Bearcats hope to have him back in time for the USF game on October 15th. In the meantime, it's great to have a "Next Man In" like Walter Stewart.
"It doesn't matter how old you are or how long you've been in the program," said Andre Revels, "when you get your opportunity to shine you had better turn into a star."
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I was sorry to read today the USF quarterback Matt Grothe is out for the rest of the season after tearing his left ACL.
Grothe recently became the Big East's all-time leader in total offensive yards with 10,875, and his injury comes just one week before the Bulls play at Florida State.
I'm sure Matt was also looking forward to getting one more crack at facing Cincinnati - the only Big East team that had managed to shut him down over the past 3 season.
In 3 games (all losses) vs. the Bearcats, Grothe was 55-for-106 (52%) for 603 yards, with 1 TD and 8 INT. That's an NFL quarterback rating of 40.7.
Against everybody else, Grothe was 662-for-1042 (64%) for 8066 yards, with 51 TD and 36 INT. That's an NFL quarterback rating of 89.2.
I wouldn't be surprised if USF coach Jim Leavitt talks to his players about how the 2008 Bearcats overcame injuries to quarterbacks Dustin Grutza and Tony Pike as he rallies the troops this week.
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If you're ever looking for a great sports trivia question, I found one while prepping for the UC/Oregon State game last week. Ready?
Who is the only Heisman Trophy winner to also play in a Final Four?
It's Oregon State's Terry Baker who won the Heisman in 1962 and started at guard for the Beavers in the Final Four in 1963.
He was also the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
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Is the UC defense still a question mark after holding Oregon State to 16 points (the safety doesn't count) and running back Jacquizz Rodgers to 73 yards on 20 carries?
It was the first time in Rodgers' 14 college games that he carried the ball at least 20 times and finished with fewer than 90 yards. Take away one 24-yard gain, and Jacquizz had 49 yards on his other 19 carries against the Bearcats for an average of 2.6 ypc.
What's most exciting are the number of key defensive players who are going to be around for several more seasons.
The two-deep includes 5 sophomores (Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, JK Schaffer, Wes Richardson, and Dominique Battle) and 7 true or redshirt freshman (Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills, Walter Stewart, Cam Cheatham, Drew Frey, Pat Lambert, and Reuben Johnson).
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I'd love to hear from you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy a recent photo of the handsome lad on his first day at preschool.