By Jeff White ([email protected])
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– He’s always enjoyed working with his hands, and Hunter Stewart remembers finding Bob the Builder sets under the Christmas tree when he was a young boy. Later, when he was about 15, Stewart received a table saw as a present, and he likes tackling home improvement projects at his family’s residence in Alexandria.
“I fix stuff all the time around the house,” said Stewart, who replaced the drywall in a bathroom and a bedroom last year.
After the 2020 season, his second in the University of Virginia football program, Stewart went to work on his body, with the help of his brother, Sean, who runs gyms in the D.C. area. In late January, Stewart returned to Grounds in terrific shape, and he’s been battling Elliott Brown this spring for a starting job at outside linebacker.
During practice Tuesday, the 6-foot-2 Stewart picked off a pass by quarterback Brennan Armstrong, and his fellow defenders swarmed around him to celebrate the takeaway.
“Right now there’s a good little battle going on with Elliott and Hunter,” linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said, “and I’d say right now honestly it’s neck and neck.”
The Cavaliers, who finished 5-5 last season, will hold their 15th and final practice of the spring Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium. Stewart expects his parents and his brother to attend, “so I’m excited about that,” he said.
A graduate of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., Stewart enrolled at UVA in the summer of 2019. Slotted initially at outside linebacker, he redshirted that fall.
In 2020, he was moved to inside linebacker to provide depth at that position. He appeared in all 10 games last season, primarily on special teams, and recovered a fumble in the finale against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Stewart, who wore jersey No. 53 in 2020, headed into the offseason knowing he’d reached a critical point in his college career. If he was going to move up the depth chart, he needed to stand out in 2021.
“I’ve been it in a couple years, so I know both inside and outside [linebacker] now,” Stewart said after practice Tuesday. “I know the playbook a lot better. I physically know what it takes to get ready for a game now, so I feel like this is the year to put it all together and really step into a role where I’m playing.”