FAYETTEVILLE – If he were a boxer instead of a 5-11 Razorbacks wide receiver, it could be said that Deon Stewart once ate his way from welterweight to light heavyweight.
Beginning his final University of Arkansas season, Stewart weighs a middleweight. The 161-pound fifth-year senior from Hardy finds that’s hard to stomach.
“I had a goal weight and I didn’t meet that weight,” Stewart said “That was kind of a downer for the summer for me but I’m still going to do what I can do.”
Deon Stewart is one of life’s Jack Sprats. Upon reporting to former Coach Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks in 2016 redshirting ate incessantly just to eke above the 140s. He said he peaked during the era of former Bielema strength coach Ben Herbert.
“At one time I got up to 174,” Stewart said. “Then I had surgery right after that offseason and I went right back down to like 160. It is what it is. I’m just going to go out there and see what I can do.”
Seems the football lightweight does a heavyweight load. Stewart lettered for Bielema’s Razorbacks in 2016 and 2017 and for Chad Morris’ Razorbacks in 2018 as a receiver/ punt returner/kick returner.
In Arkansas’ young receivers room, second-year receivers coach Justin Stepp says Stewart’s senior voice packs the heaviest wallop.
“Deon no doubt is the leader of that group,” Stepp said. “He is the model of consistency and he has been since we’ve been here.”
Senior Stewart said, “I’m going out there and practice hard and helping the team in any way I can, helping all the young guys learn what they’re doing and stuff. “
Maybe it’s just as well he hasn’t added the weight sought. For other than himself, described preseason as the “fastest Razorback” strength coach Trumain Carroll, junior Smackover speedster Jordan Jones said, “I would say Deon is the next fastest receiver. He’s pretty quick.”
“He’s got a tremendous amount of speed and helps us in the return game,” Stepp said.
Plus judgement, hands, and elusiveness, qualities even above speed for returning punts (9 (punts for 91 yards last year.
“Coach (Mark) Smith (the assistant secondary coach) said, ‘You’ve got to be a dog to be back there catching punts,” Stewart said with dog a compliment unlike its previous generations vernacular. “You are looking up at the ball and it’s very high in the sky and those guys are running at you full speed. I have to blot all of that out and just catch the ball first. They always emphasize ‘Catch the ball first and then you can run.”
And judge when to run or fair catch.
“Before last year when they were punting I would stare at the ball the whole time,” Stewart said. “But last year I learned to look up and look down to see if I should fair catch it, and then look back up to see the ball again. I made sure I could see if the blocking was going to get me a gain. Because if you are staring at the ball the whole time you’re not going to know where the defenders are.”
As a receiver Stewart caught 2 for 34 as a 2016 rookie reserve and for 2017 33 for 404 yards with fifth-year senior Austin Allen the established quarterback.
Last year with Allen gone and everything offensively trying to establish under first-year Coach Morris, Stewart’s receiving stats dipped to 22 catches for 178 yards.
The newness factored but so did an old problem, Stewart’s light weight against cornerbacks’ aggressive press coverage.
“For me being a little guy, a corner gets his hands on me, it’s not going to be very hard for him to press me,” Stewart said. “So working on my releases is something that I’ve always been working on.”
Well, since he’s been a Razorback, anyway.
“In high school nobody pressed me,” Stewart said. And then I got up here I remember against (defensive back) Henre Toliver one of the older guys in one on one. I have a video of it. He pressed me all the way to the sidelines. So I have to work on getting better releases.”
For that Stewart must outwit and out-quick what he can’t outmuscle.
“Releases have everything to do with footwork and head fakes and swiping their hands down when they try to get you with theirs,” Stewart said. “It’s a lot of things that go into it. I’m still working on it every day to get better.”
Stewart cites one big plus to being a little guy pressed. He automatically becomes a better blocker.
“I get pressed so much that blocking makes it easier acting like you’re running a go route or any kind of route,” Stewart said. “It just takes them out of the play. They’ve got their back to the defense and they don’t know where the ball is.”