Earlier this week, it was announced that Austin Stewart, a four-year member of the Central Michigan basketball team, had left the basketball program to attempt to walk-on to the football team.
The news was an extreme surprise to fans of both programs, and there still aren't a lot of answers as to why Stewart is making the change. However, optimism abounds for Coach Bonamego, who sees a lot of potential for Stewart at the receiver spot.
In an interview with CM Life, Coach Bonamego explained his decision to bring Stewart in: "He’s big, he’s athletic, he’s got length, he can run. He looks like he catches the ball very well. We’ll continue to train him and evaluate him as it goes."
Stewart is not guaranteed a spot on the team, but if he did make it, he would have one year of eligibility left.
This wouldn't be the first time a MAC product tried to switch sports mid-stream. Quinton Rollins famously did it two years ago, going from point guard at Miami to star cornerback. Rollins is currently a member of the Green Bay Packers after getting drafted in the second round.
Not all stories are so successful, though. Western Michigan's Flenard Whitfield had all of four snaps at the tight end position after playing power forward in basketball, while former Kent State forward Darren Goodson played in six games for the Golden Flashes as a tight end in his senior season, primarily as a rotation blocker.
So, how does Austin Stewart project? Well, that's difficult to figure out.
There isn't much statistically in the way of Austin Stewart's football career online outside of a proclamation that Stewart received 1st team All-NWF Big 12 Conference honors as a receiver in high school his junior year, and a blurry YouTube highlights video that can be seen below:
There are a couple factors to consider here, the obvious being rust. Stewart hasn't played football since 2012, when he focused on his basketball career. It could be difficult to get back into the swing of things going form a finesse sport such as basketball to a physical one like football.
Stewart is also a bit of a tweener. Standing at 6'6", 215 lbs., there aren't many positions that Stewart can line up comfortably in, outside of wide receiver. Only at that position does his natural leaping ability and quick first step adapt most directly from basketball. He's much too tall to play defensive back (not that here's really any room at corner or safety anyway,) and he is too small to be on the line or back it.
Position depth could also be an issue. At current, there are 12 receivers on the official Central Michigan football roster, with Anthony Rice and Jesse Kroll both returning next season. Eric Cooper, Corey Willis, and Mark Chapman, all key contributors, also return to the fray for CMU. Not to mention, Bailey Edwards, brother of Braylon, is a true freshman this season.
There are a lot of obstacles that Stewart must overcome, especially since he received no football offers coming out of high school. However, if he is able to progress throughout spring practices san show his athletic clout, Stewart could be a potential contributor when the 2016 season starts.
Correction (updated 12:15 p.m. EST): Antonio Gates did not play football at Kent State University. The mention was a case of mistaken assumption. It has been since been removed. The author of the story, along with Hustle Belt, regret the error and any misinformation it may have caused.