At a recent District 6-AA meeting, the football coaches selected Willie Stewart as the league's best defensive back.
Tyner coach Wayne Turner believes Stewart could have won a similar award for linebackers, receivers or running backs. The 5-foot-5, 165-pounder has played some at each of those positions this year, plus spending time at noseguard, defensive end and quarterback.
"He's an outstanding athlete, an outstanding young man with a great personality," Turner said. "He's a hard worker. He's dependable and has a great knowledge of the game, and he's a great leader on the field and off because he also takes care of his schoolwork."
Tyner never needed leaders like Stewart and his senior starting mates more. Four games into the season the Rams were winless. They won a couple and then had to forfeit each.
"Early in the season we weren't playing as a group, but after the forfeits we took the attitude that it was win or go home," Stewart said. "I told the guys, 'Give it all or pack up your stuff.' That's still our motto."
It is a mindset that Turner has endorsed and one that has the Rams on a five-game win streak.
"We've been playing one-and-done for a long time now, and the kids responded well to it," the coach said. "Our playoffs started Week 6, and I think they embraced that idea. They have been more focused in practice and they have worked harder."
Stewart has done his part.
"He's made quite a few big plays," Turner related. "Over at Central their quarterback dropped back to pass and Willie wound up grabbing the ball out of the quarterback's hands. He took it 80 yards."
Against Brainerd in another of those backs-to-the-wall games, Tyner's quarterback threw an interception and Stewart, who never leaves the field with time on the clock, came up big again.
"Willie just laid low, and when the defensive back came by him he snatched the ball away and took it to the house," Turner said.
The only things missing from the senior's scoring repertoire are a safety and a field goal.
"I tried kicking an extra point. It was long enough and high enough, but it went wide right -- by just a little bit," Stewart said.
He has thrown a couple of touchdown passes, rushed for touchdowns and been on the receiving end of scoring passes, and that's in addition to punt and kickoff returns for scores.
"He'll play wherever he's asked to play and he'll give you 110 percent," Turner said. "He'll do an outstanding job because of his knowledge, because he loves to compete and he wants to beat the other guys."
Stewart's relative lack of size has been more of a motivation than a hindrance, clearly.
"I've always been a little person. Big just isn't there in my family, so I have to use my speed and my heart," he said. "My uncle told me a long time ago I have to outwork people."
He has had his share of big plays, but he wasn't thinking about those when asked about his biggest moments as a Ram.
There were two that immediately came to mind.
"We doused [Turner] after the Red Bank game when we clinched a playoff berth, and then last week some of us -- the guys that have played four years -- had tears in our eyes after the win," he said. "It was the first playoff win we've had, and it was the first for Tyner in six years."
Those, Turner declared, are prime examples of what makes Stewart special.
"A lot of it is internal -- heart," the coach said. "He's fast, a 4.4 or 4.5 40; he has great hands and he runs good routes. But he's just a real competitor. Lots of kids like to compete, but when it gets tough they're going to go find something else to do."
Not Stewart and, apparently, not his Tyner teammates.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...
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