For a lot of folks, Broderick Stewart’s Music City Bowl ring is inspirational. For Stewart, himself, it’s motivational.
The defensive end gave his ring to his mother in part because he did not feel worthy of it. A broken leg sustained early in the next-to-last game of the regular season made him little more than a spectator as Vanderbilt defeated Boston College 16-14 in its first appearance in a postseason contest since 1982.
“It’s good to say that everybody’s Music City Bowl champions, but I – personally – I don’t really feel like (one),” Stewart said. “I don’t even wear the ring.
“…(My mother) keeps it safe. She shows it off to other people back home. She took it to my church one Sunday and everybody raved about it. That’s good. That’s what it’s for.”
In the eyes of the fifth-year senior, it’s not so much a reminder of what he accomplished as it is a goal to be reached in this, his final year of college football.
“There’s a ton of us redshirt-seniors and we’ve been in this program for so long,” center Bradley Vierling said. “For us to finally get to a bowl game and he didn’t get to play in it, I know he’s got a fire underneath him and he wants to get to another one. We’re going to get him another one, and we’re excited about that.”
For now, though, the only precious metal that Stewart has with him is the titanium plate and eight screws, which were inserted in the leg where the fracture occurred.
Those are his permanently. The same is true for the memories of seeing his teammates succeed in the biggest game any of them had played.
“It was good watching the guys get out there and have fun,” he said. “I was cold, but we won and it was exciting and that’s all that really counts. … And before I got injured, we won our sixth game, so I felt like I had done my part.”
In slightly more than 10 contests last season he tied his career-high with 29 tackles and set personal bests with 9.5 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles. He also had five sacks, the third straight year he recorded at least that many.
At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds he is nearly 40 pounds lighter than any of the other three starters on the Commodores’ defensive front but faster than most linemen anywhere is the country. He’s also athletic, as evidenced by the fact that he was a triple jump state champion in Georgia.
“He’s a huge pass rusher, obviously, with his speed off the corner,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “But he also gives you a guy who can drop off into coverage from the defensive line. That gives you a little leeway to design all kinds of zone blitzes. He’s just really versatile.”
In addition to the bowl game (and the regular season finale at Wake Forest) the injury was severe enough that it forced Stewart to miss spring workouts.
He finally was cleared to begin training in mid-May and was on the field Friday when the Commodores conducted their first formal practice in preparation for the 2009 season.
“It’s a long camp ahead of me,” he said. “So. I think when I get into contact and everything else, that’s when I’ll have a better indication of how my body feels. Right now I feel very good. I’m not 100 percent, but I feel very good.”
Physically, that is.
“Knowing Broderick, I guarantee you he’s hungry,” Johnson said. “Not being able to play in that bowl game really hurt him psychologically. He wanted to play in that game.”
His dismay over being sidelined was only enhanced by the fact that the other three starters on the defensive line — Steven Stone, Adam Smotherman and Greg Billinger — played every game last season.
All four are back as are five other starters on defense, which means not much has changed since the last time Stewart took the field. The idea is for things to be different at the finish.
“It was hard … because I had worked and it was the first bowl game in 26 years or whatever,” Stewart said. “So I kind of felt bad about not being able to complete being a part of history.
“Just personally, I need to go to another bowl. I need it so I feel like I have accomplished something more here to be a part of history.”