Gators trail for top linebacker

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LAKE BUENA VISTA — Stories of freak offseason injuries never seem to get old.

Everyone’s heard of them and everyone scoffs at the idea of it happening to them. That is, until it does.

That is the exact predicament St. Augustine Pedro Menendez linebacker Tony Steward found himself in.

While playing basketball during gym class with other students and head football coach Keith Cromwell, Steward, whom Rivals.com rates as the No. 1 linebacker and the No. 2 overall player in the country, drove through the lane for a layup and awkwardly stepped on another player’s foot. The result was a torn anterior talofibular (ATF) ligament, or a high ankle sprain, in his left foot.

Steward underwent eight weeks of rehab but participated at summer camps, including one at Florida in June. Steward appeared to be fine at the 2010 Gridiron Kings tournament this past weekend and said the ankle is 100 percent and that he’d be back to his normal playing speed if he hadn’t tweaked his knee at a Rutgers camp. Still, he’s pretty happy with his rejuvenated foot.

“Man, the ankle is great,” Steward said.

When Steward wasn’t rehabbing, he was taking numerous phone calls from coaches and members of the media. He admits to turning down some reporters’ calls because of the annoyance recruiting had become, but he is starting to develop a more positive outlook on the situation. Even with the constant questions he gets about his status and the schools he’s interested in, Steward maintains a bright smile and personable aura. Talking to him, you have to pry that recruiting has grown a little tiring.

“I have to look at it in a good way because it’s an opportunity not many people get, so you have to take advantage of it,” he said. “It’s great and everything, but it’s a little annoying.”

Steward was gracious enough to talk with reporters over the weekend.

Nothing has really changed for the 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker. Clemson and Florida State are his leaders with Florida trailing. UCLA, Alabama and Rutgers are also in consideration.

His love for Clemson comes from only one visit there. But it was certainly enough as he’s developed the strongest bonds with Clemson coaches, especially with his recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott and defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Kevin Steele.

“Besides football, the people (at Clemson) are real nice people,” he said. “They’re great, they’re real with you. There’s not too much to get into up there, so you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble.”

As for FSU, Steward said the Seminoles were a childhood favorite of his and that he gets a “home feeling” when he’s in Tallahassee. Defensive line coach Odell Haggins was also the first college coach to start recruiting him. He was expected to visit FSU this week.

Florida’s coaches haven’t had much of a problem recruiting him, as he has a good relationship with “pretty much every coach there.” And he’s no stranger to Gainesville.

“I’ve been to Florida probably more than I’ve been home (this summer),” he said.

Steward said he’s making his college decision difficult with the schools he’s picked. Fortunately, he will have some time to think about it with his commitment date set for Feb. 2.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Am I just over thinking this but it seems like last year we were well ahead of were we are now! I am not worried because I know Coach Meyer (and Assts.) will come through buy NSD. Seems like we are loosing a lot of in state players. We will still be #1 at the end as always. GO Gators!!

  2. I think Meyer is going for developmental players this year. Through in a need key player here an there and were done. LSU will be 1 this year with Texas number two. If you start to see LSU receivers block this year you know who to blame. Their run game will be better than Bama’s this year. Go Gators.

  3. @j
    I used to think so, but since dubose is questionable with his proneness to injuries, moody as a lukewarm producer, and our loss in the running for wilder I think our running game is the most suffering position in our attack scheme. We need to figure out something, because we can’t expect to depend solely on our passing to win games.

  4. It seems that Tony couldn’t go wrong by going to UF. It’s close enough to St. Augustine that he could go home very easily, family could come to his games, and he would be away from home but still in a comfortable, close-to-home area. Hope he decides that UF has more to offer him in the long run…

  5. It seems that this states players are falling in love with Clemson and I’ve been wondering why, if its as Tony says because its in the middle of nowhere (beautiful place though) and they think that will keep them out of trouble. Well your own discipline should keep you out of trouble. If its in your heart it will come out in your actions. That seclusion may help for a while but curiosity and desire will eventually take over. Being closer to home seems to me should be a better shield, but what do I know. I personally think those guys avoid Florida because of the BIG FISH syndrome. They all want to be the biggest fish in the pond, at Florida everyone on the field is a big fish.