A Defense’s KryptonitePublished 11:05am Thursday, August 29, 2013
Reeltown’s Ariko Stewart has been giving a new meaning to the term “Runnin’ Rebel” this off-season.
And for good reason, too.
As he enters his junior season, Stewart will be the lead back in Reeltown’s historically dominating rushing attack.
“I’ve been running a lot more than usual,” he said. “I wasn’t in as good of shape as I originally thought I was. I know I will play a lot on offense and defense, so I’m trying my best to do as much running as I can, so that I won’t wear down like I did last year.”
Despite saying that he wasn’t in the best shape, Stewart wrecked opponents on both sides of the ball as a sophomore.
As a runner, he amassed 1,070 rushing yards and 12 scores. But his best work came on the defensive side of the ball.
On his way to a spot on the Class 2A All-State first team, Stewart was the best defensive back for the Rebels, racking up 92 tackles and intercepting five passes.
Stewart personally prefers the defensive aspect of the game for one simple reason.
“I like to come up and hit,” Stewart said. “I’m not afraid to take chances.”
The junior sledgehammer is bringing that hitter’s mentality to Reeltown’s backfield, which had been dominated with speed, notably by Stewart’s older brother, Tywone.
While the younger Stewart is not as fast as the elder, Stewart does have some burst, as he runs a 4.5 40-yard dash.
However, he is bigger and stronger than Tywone, and with a more than 500 pound max squat, he is prepared to punish tacklers.
Stewart said he learned the importance of leadership from his brother.
“He was a good leader, and he would work with me if I got something wrong, to make sure I get it right,” he said. “I think I have to be a better leader than I was last year. I have to push myself to do more. I know a lot of people are watching me so I need to push my team to do it right. I have to set the tone.”
In order to do that, Stewart has set his sights on big-time numbers out of the backfield this season.
In fact, he intends to double his output from last season.
“Last year, I ran for 1,000 yards, but I was right at that number,” he said. “This year, I’m going to try for 2,000 yards.”
If Stewart can reach that number, chances are that Reeltown will be playing deep into the postseason, which is something the Rebels are very much accustomed to.
As far as Stewart is concerned, anything less that a state championship would be a failure.
“I’ve told the team that when we come out here, we don’t come out here to play,” he said. “We come out here to win a state championship. So when we are out here doing our jobs, we have to do them right, and I hope that everyone out here is going to do that.”
Stewart, who has drawn interest from Auburn, said he was aware that most opponents who play Reeltown tend to be aware of what the Rebels are bringing to the table.
However, with the Rebels usually able to employ their gameplan effectively, Stewart said he was confident in the team’s ability to succeed, and he had a message for opponents who think otherwise.
“Opponents know what we’re going to do,” he said. “But Coach O’Neal always tells our linemen and our backs that if we do what we have to do, then there is no team that can stop us. All I have to say to our opponents is good luck.”
This season, the Rebels’ adversaries may need more than luck to stop Ariko Stewart.
See The Outlook throughout the month of August for player profiles of The Outlook’s Super 12 team leading to the kickoff of the 2013 season.