Sculpting the defense

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Maalik Bomar and Walter Stewart drastically altered their body compositions in order to beef up a defense depending on them.


WEST HARRISON, Ind. - Sophomore Maalik Bomar couldn't figure out the problem. For years, he ate his fair share of food, hit the weight room consistently and evolved into a three-star recruit out of Winton Woods High School.


He never added pounds.


"I used to think, 'Geez, I am only gaining a couple pounds every blue moon,'" Bomar said. "I thought it was genetics."


At the end of spring football, Bomar knew his time arrived. A gaping hole developed in the Bearcats defense at his outside linebacker position as starter JK Schaffer appeared destined for more at the middle backer position vacated by leading tackler Andre Revels. Only, at 196 pounds, Bomar needed more size to fill the mold of an effective BCS linebacker.


Under the supervision of strength coaches Dave Lawson and Mike Szerszen, Bomar traded summer in the sun for a summer in the damp, sweaty confines of the UC weight-training facilities.


Ten weeks later, Bomar emerged with 22 pounds of extra muscle, at a chiseled 218.


Bomar defied what he thought to be genetics by never missing a meal and sticking to Lawson's strict nutrition plan. This wasn't an Oprah blow up. This sculpting came carefully constructed every step of the way.


"You want one or two pounds a week," Szerszen said. "You look at what he gained, 22 pounds over a 10-week span, it's been a healthy gain."


Healthy for both Bomar and the Bearcats defense. During a recent practice Butch Jones patrolled up and down stretching lines and pronounced out loud, "I am buying stock in Maalik Bomar!"


Jones proclamation is more than just words with Schaffer's extensive snaps at MLB. At the end of last season Bomar was No. 3 on the depth chart, but if the season started today, Bomar would likely take the field for the first snap of the season at OLB.


"We don't have any time to waste for him to come along," linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator John Jancek said.    


A similar comment could be made about Walter Stewart. Stewart already proved he could play at a high level with 59 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss as a freshman last year. But with the loss of six starters, the Bearcats need Stewart to develop into one of the most dominant pass rushers in the Big East. And they needed him to do it from both the linebacker and defensive end position.


Feeling the same sense of urgency which sparked Bomar, Stewart made a conscious decision to change his body's capabilities.


"By the Sugar Bowl, I knew for me to compete and do what I do, which is get to the quarterback, I had to get bigger," Stewart said. "I just took it upon myself to just make sure I am eating three, four, five times a day and just lifting hard. I want to win, so I do whatever it takes."


It took a summer with Lawson, Szerszen and Bomar to gain 22 pounds of his own. The 6-foot-5 Stewart ended last season at 213 pounds and now fills out at 235.


He's far from the ideal size for a hybrid DE/LB, probably needing to add another 15-20 pounds to be at NFL-ready size. However, he's at the perfect size for this point in time.


"I was thinking I wanted to get to 245," Stewart said. "When I got to 235, I was like 'Whoa, I may have to calm it down a little bit.' I don't want to get too heavy then have to work my body into shape. It ended up working out just right for me.


"I feel like I still have my burst, it is a different speed that I have now. I have power behind my speed. Not just quickness and bouncing around. I can actually go through defenders now instead of constantly having to run around them."


All indications are Stewart's new combination of speed and power are paying off. He has impressed in camp and shined during Wednesday's scrimmage.


"I could rip off blocks and throw people around," Stewart said. "It was exciting to take that weight room strength and use it out here. After going through a whole season undersized, it is a big difference. And a lot more fun, too."


With his versatility and newfound power, Stewart creates mismatches and becomes the Bearcats most vital defensive weapon.


On the opposite side of the field, Bomar hopes to follow in Stewart's footsteps as the breakout defensive player. At the very least, Jones demands reliability from the unproven Bomar.


Stewart and Bomar spent countless hours working out together during the early morning moments of this summer. They talked about stepping up when called upon. They talked about becoming dominant defenders. They talked about completing a Big East three-peat.


Now they own the bodies to back it up.

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