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NFL star traces his roots to JBLM, Timberline H.S.

Published: 01:51PM July 11th, 2013

LACEY — As hundreds of young football hopefuls from elementary to high school age entered South Sound Stadium at North Thurston High School July 2, they passed signs for the Jonathan Stewart Football Camp with a message: “never settle.”

Stewart, a running back for the Carolina Panthers, said at the start of the camp the motto challenges them to be more than ordinary in everything they do — playing a sport as he does or having success in careers of their choices.

“‘Ordinary’ won’t do if you want to get to where I’m at or where you want to be,” Stewart said.

He’s always strived to do better whether he was setting Washington state prep rushing records at Timberline High School in Lacey, competing for the 2007 Maxwell Award at the University of Oregon or playing in the National Football League for the Panthers.

Before entering his sixth year in the NFL, Stewart returned to Lacey for his camp’s fourth year. He enjoys coming back to where he grew up.

“You always got to reminisce and just think about where you were, how you got here and the people who affected you,” Stewart said.

Born March 21, 1987 at Madigan Army Medical Center on Fort Lewis, Stewart and his family moved around as his father, Jonathan Stewart, Sr., served in the Army.

The family lived in Hawaii, California and Georgia before they settled at Fort Lewis just in time for Stewart to enter the first grade.

“Probably tougher for my older brother, but for me, I was just a little kid,” Stewart said.

As a youth, Stewart said he learned a lot at numerous football camps on post. It was a big part of bringing a football camp to where he grew up to include kids from Lacey, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the surrounding community.

As a member of the Timberline High School football squad in 2001, Stewart made a big splash. In each of the four years with the Blazers, he had at least 1,000 rushing yards for a career total of 7,755 yards with 95 touchdowns. Stewart finished his prep career in 2004 with a senior season total of 2,301 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns, statistically one of the all-time greatest football players in the state.

Looking back at his high school years, Stewart said the communities from the entire South Puget Sound region encouraged him to excel both in the classroom and on the football field.

“Through middle school, high school and even my choice to go to Oregon, the following that I had and the support, it shows how great the city of Lacey is,” Stewart said. “(The same goes for) Olympia, Tumwater, Black Hills, the whole area and Fort Lewis. It’s just awesome.”

As a running back for Oregon, Stewart got a few carries in his freshman season and collected six touchdowns. He was the team’s rushing leader as a sophomore with 981 yards and 10 touchdowns. He broke out in his junior year, rushing for 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns and finished the season as one of the finalists for the Maxwell Award, presented to the nation’s best college player as judged by coaches, sportscasters and writers.

While a student-athlete, Stewart was careful to never put too many things on his plate at once, balancing athletics with academics, but going all out in whichever he pursued at the time.

Dedication is what he now talks about with the young athletes he mentors at his football camps, like the ones who attended the two-day camp in Lacey.

“If you’re in the classroom, be a full-time student,” he said. “If you’re on the football field, you’re a full-time football player. Wherever you are, be full time.”

His hard work led to being selected in the first round by the Panthers, 13th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. Stewart focuses on using his NFL status as a chance to not only be a role model, but also guide children.

“Mentoring and letting these kids see hands on what it takes to be successful and what it looks like to be successful and to maintain your credibility, personality and character without letting the world tell you who you are,” Stewart said.

Football has given Stewart the opportunity to build a legacy by mentoring youths, especially poignant to him when he returns to the the community he grew up in. “When we die, (our legacy) is all we have left,” he said.