Sept. 24, 2010
Tackling Players, Tackling the Books
Offensive guard Chris Stewart sets a precedent for student-athletes
By Kelly Taylor
The typical visuals associated with law school include clusters of compact books, strenuous study sessions and note cards filled with complicated legal jargon. Contrastingly, Notre Dame football triggers images of gold helmets sprinkled across the field, historic victories and push-ups in the student section. Most would agree that law school and college football lack a commonality. Chris Stewart, on the other hand, certainly proves this assumption wrong.
A fifth-year senior on the at Offensive Guard, offensive guard Chris Stewart is in his final season on the field while also beginning his first year as a Notre Dame law student. Following the culmination of the 2009 campaign, Stewart applied for a fifth year of eligibility. He then took the LSAT exam, applied to the Notre Dame Law School and received his official letter of acceptance.
While he will be a key contributor on the offensive line this season, Stewart will undoubtedly be perusing countless pages and maintaining his student-athlete status simultaneously. While tackling players by day, he will certainly be tackling the books at night.
“It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment to be competing as a student-athlete and also taking classes in our law school,” says Brian Hardin, director of football media relations.
While some former Notre Dame football players have pursued law school following their playing careers at Notre Dame, Stewart is unique in his simultaneous pursuit of attending law school and remaining committed to the Notre Dame football team.
After graduating in three-and-a-half years with degrees in history and peace studies in `09, Stewart decided to continue his time at Notre Dame by pursuing a professional degree in law. Impressively, he finished his undergraduate studies with a 3.536 cumulative grade point average.
“[Graduating early] happened out of the blue,” Stewart remarks. “I had AP credits from high school and took some summer classes so it just worked out that way.”
When asked about what he did last spring, Stewart kept busy in his own way. “I stuck around and took a piano class,” he says.
Stewart admits he always possessed an interest in law but didn’t realize it would lead him to his current destination. “I had two law internships in past summers and enjoyed them, but I didn’t always know what I wanted to do,” he recalls. Lucky for the Irish, Notre Dame’s law program wanted to see more of him. “They were crazy enough to let me back in here,” Stewart jokes.
After traveling to Haiti on a spring break trip in `09, Stewart gained perspective on his passion for social justice. He studied Haiti’s past first-hand and became interested in the drastic socioeconomic changes throughout its history. This experience cemented his interest in applying to law school.
Numerically speaking, the Notre Dame Law School accepts less than 20 percent of its applicants, proving Stewart had to earn his spot. Although he had a limited amount of time to study for the LSAT exam compared to his peers, Stewart made sure he put in the necessary hours in order to earn, and not simply, gain entry.
In the past decade, the Law School has accepted only two other student-athletes – a fencer and a track athlete as fifth-year student athletes. He has now joined that coveted list.
Undoubtedly for him, the workload of law school has been tremendous, especially for a first-year student. “Law school definitely is more work since it’s a professional degree,” he says. “It gives you a different way to look at things and there’s more seriousness involved.”
Stewart’s class schedule runs Monday through Friday from 8:30 am until 1:00 pm. He has had to cram his schedule with courses in the morning throughout this first semester in order to focus on football in the afternoons. Fortunately for Stewart, he took two law courses prior to the fall semester, giving him more time to adjust to the demanding curriculum.
Performing under pressure seems to suit Stewart’s strengths as his academic ambitions parallel his work ethic on the field. The 6-foot-5, 351-pound offensive lineman relishes in the immense pressure that comes along with being a part of the Notre Dame football program. Doing so allows him to maintain his motivation. “I like that there’s always a microscope on your back with a constant expectation to perform,” he says. According to Stewart, head coach Brian Kelly remains entirely supportive of his athletic and academic endeavors. His teammates, on the other hand, think he’s out of his mind.
Stewart is still exploring his options, but has ideas in regards to the type of law he is most interested in pursuing following graduation. “I would like to get involved with the business side of law, but I’m also taking Professor Blakey’s criminal law class which has been great.”
Stewart also remains open minded in terms of future plans with regards to football. “Hopefully I’ll be playing football at the next level, but I’ll have to see how that works out with law school,” he says. At this point, Stewart definitely plans to apply for the NFL draft following his final collegiate season.
As one of three fifth-year seniors on the 2010 Irish roster–Barry Gallup Jr. and Dan Wenger are the others–Stewart believes he fulfills an important leadership role. “I’ve been around the longest so I definitely have to be a leader in some capacity.”
After sitting out his freshman year in 2006, Stewart began his career as a nose tackle before moving to the offensive line in the fall of 2007. Upon completion of the ’09 campaign, Stewart remained unsurpassed in career starts among offensive players, starting 22 of 28 career contests. He also was one of nine players on the team to start every game last season.
Perhaps Stewart’s athleticism remains rooted in his family. His brother played basketball at Texas Southern, while his mother won a silver medal with the United States basketball team in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada.
In terms of his decision to attend Notre Dame twice, under two completely different circumstances, Stewart believes firmly in the broad advantages the university has to offer. “The combination of academics and football is unlike anywhere else, and there really is nowhere else like [Notre Dame] in the world,” he affirms.
A native of Spring, Texas, Stewart asserts that his family provides the foundation and support. “My mom, my dad, and my sisters are my biggest influences,” he remarks.
Stewart came onto the football scene later in life, picking it up during seventh and eighth grade. “Some people start when they’re five years old; that wasn’t me,” he says.
Notre Dame clearly holds great meaning for Stewart. He immediately mentions the Grotto when asked about his favorite place on campus. “I’m going to miss going to the Basilica and the Grotto on Sundays,” he states.
Not only does he maintain a profound love for Notre Dame, but the University itself has benefited from Stewart’s broad influence. His academic and athletic excellence has set a precedent for all incoming student-athletes in regards to performing on the field and in the classroom. In addition, Stewart’s actions point to the profits of utilizing a free education. He exemplifies how those who obtain such privileges should seize any and all opportunities that come their way.
Stewart also makes note of the unforgettable individuals he has met here in South Bend. “I’ve met such great people, from teammates, to people at the top, all the way down to custodial staff,” he says. Specifically, he points to Mike Golic Jr., Jake Golic, Kyle Rudolph, and the entire offensive line as some of his closest teammates.
With elevated expectations, the Fighting Irish still remain focused on the overall goal of winning a national championship. When asked about his hopes for this season, Stewart simply responds, “I’m here for the same reason that every [athlete] comes to Notre Dame.” While the explanations in Stewart’s law textbooks may lack clarity, his reason for putting on that Fighting Irish uniform remains as clear as ever.
He’s traveled to Haiti. He’s balancing law school with football. He plays the piano. And, hopefully, Chris Stewart now will lead the Irish to many victories throughout this football season.
As one door closes for this superior athlete, many others open.
Stewart already stands out on the field, and hopes to one day stand up for the law.