Alex Pittz knew there was something special about Anthony Stewart before the Chowchilla High School star stepped foot on campus.
The Redskins’ football coach quickly saw Stewart’s potential.
“Obviously, his physical tools are incredible,” Pittz said. “He’s a kid coming out of eighth grade that we knew he’d be a varsity kid right away. He’s one of the few four-year varsity kids we’ve ever had. Most freshmen just aren’t ready to play varsity.”
Four years later, Stewart matured into the most talented player Pittz has coached.
Stewart did anything Pittz asked this season, playing offense, defense and special teams. After rushing for 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns, he was named the North Sequoia League MVP for the second consecutive season.
Stewart helped lead the Redskins to a 12-3 record, a Valley championship and a berth in the CIF Division IV-A State Championship Bowl Game.
After his spectacular season, Stewart is the Merced Sun-Star All-Area Player of the Year.
“It was a special opportunity to play four years of varsity,” Stewart said. “It went by super fast. I remember my first day coming out. I didn’t know what to do. I was a shy freshman.”
After guiding the Redskins to the Central Section championship, the SoCal Regional Bowl title and state championship berth, Pittz is the Sun-Star Coach of the Year.
Stewart and Pittz have seen the rebirth of the Redskins’ program.
“He’s been part of our program the last four years as we have revamped the program,” Pittz said. “We’ve constantly thrown him into positions he doesn’t always get to practice. He’s played running back, quarterback, defensive back. It’s easy to do it with him because his versatility is spectacular.”
Unhappy with some character issues two years ago, Pittz changed the offseason requirements for players. To play football, athletes had to show up for weight training before school. If they missed too many workouts, they couldn’t play.
“After the year (2013) we missed the playoffs, we knew we had to go back and focus on character,” Pittz said. “We had to stop worrying about the results and focus on the process.”
The new rules left Chowchilla with just 17 players in 2014, but they were committed. Despite the lack of numbers, the Redskins went 6-5.
With the same requirements, the roster jumped to 42 players in 2015, and Chowchilla had one of its best seasons in school history.
“I was talking with our superintendent (Ron Seals), and we were reminiscing how great it was for those two weeks to be a part of the community,” Pittz said. “To watch the town rally behind the team was something special. We were just honored by the City Council, and the school board is going to honor the team.
“We strive to be the best every single year. Hopefully, we can duplicate this type of success.”
It helps to have a player like Stewart.
On defense, teams rarely threw his way. He entered the season with a reputation as a shutdown corner.
On special teams, opponents usually kicked away from him. He still averaged more than 29 yards on kickoff returns and 20 yards on punt returns. He returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns.
“Every time they kicked it to me, I tried to get in the end zone,” Stewart said. “If not, at least the 50-yard line.”
Said Pittz: “One of the reasons we can be so aggressive on special teams and go after blocked punts is because he’s back there returning. We don’t have to set up a return for him. He’s so good he’s got a chance to return a punt without blocks.”
How explosive is Stewart? Pittz remembers him taking over a game against Washington Union during his junior season.
“He was playing free safety for us, and at that time, he was mostly playing quarterback for us on offense,” Pittz said. “He had two interception he returned for touchdowns in the first half. We also made a goal-line stand, so we got the ball on our own 2-yard line. The very next play, he broke a 98-yard touchdown run.
“In 10 minutes, he scored three touchdowns with us only running one offensive play.”
Stewart was at his best this season. He matured into a running back who didn’t always have to bounce to the outside and rely on his speed. He became a more patient runner who allowed the play to develop and set up his blockers.
Stewart finished his career with 3,943 rushing yards and 56 total touchdowns.
“I’ve enjoyed watching him mature mentally,” Pittz said. “That’s something we’re really proud of. Somebody watching him may just take for granted his physical gifts. He’s so much more tougher mentally, and he’s grasped the concepts of the game. It’s been really cool to watch.”
|Chowchilla News Day
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