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Sept. 30, 2009

By Trey Bloomer
Media Relations Student Assistant

Senior safety Darian Stewart has been one of the key contributors to the defense for the Gamecocks since he joined the program in the fall of 2006. Stewart has been a leader by example and has been near the top of the list for the Gamecocks in tackles the past two years.

The last few years, South Carolina has it had stars on defense such as current pro players Jasper Brinkley and Captain Munnerlyn. Like those former Gamecocks, Stewart has been as important, and did so without receiving the same accolades as his fellow teammates. Instead of letting that bother him he used it as motivation.

“I have always used that as motivation,” said Stewart. “I have always played with a chip on my shoulder, and I never let anyone get me down. I always stay humble, and give it all up to God.”

Now a senior, Stewart has sought that leadership role. He has many fresh faces looking at him for guidance, and leadership. While not something that Stewart has always had to do, he is more than ready to take on that role.

“This season I have felt that I have to set a good example for these young guys, and become a better overall leader,” said Stewart. “Last season we had a whole different set of leaders, and I was basically looking up to them. Now this is my year, I feel more comfortable, and I am ready to be that guy.”

Being out in front on this year’s team is something that Stewart knows he has to be. The Gamecock defense features seven freshmen on the two-deep, and all of them are being counted on to contribute. Four of those freshmen are in the secondary with Stewart. With the starting corners being freshman Stephon Gilmore and sophomore Akeem Auguste, the experience that Stewart possesses is being counted on even more.

Even though there are younger players on defense, Stewart is encouraged with the effort and the abilities of players like Antonio Allen, Akeem Auguste, Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman.

“They (the young guys) have brought a lot of competitiveness,” added Stewart. “They still have some things to work on and we have to keep pushing and encouraging them them. Still, those guys just go out and compete.”

Last season the Gamecocks got off to a 7-3 start, and thought around Columbia was that South Carolina was going to finish strong and have a great season. However, the Gamecocks would finish with a three-game losing streak that included a 31-10 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

The way last season ended definitely left a sour taste in the mouth of all Gamecocks including Stewart. This season the team has adopted the mantra that this is a “New Carolina.” Last season is in the past, and the entire team is holding each other accountable

The Gamecocks new attitude has started from the top down. With seniors like Stewart, the leadership they have brought has been the guiding force in the change. So when asked about the potential for the 2009 version of the Gamecock football team, Stewart’s face lights up.

“I feel like the potential of this year’s team is extremely high,” said Stewart. “I feel as though every single day we are getting better. With these young guys, and the leadership we have this season, we can be great. All the pieces are there to have a successful season.”

Stewart has had to lead this year’s team, and doing so while changing positions. Last season he played the spur position, and this year he is taking over the strong safety position vacated by the early departure of Emanuel Cook.

Switching positions this late in his career could have been an issue, but Stewart said that he is comfortable at either position.

“When I am at the spur, I am able to cover the field and play inside the box. It allows me to play a little linebacker. When I am at the safety spot, I play my zone and I am able to break on the ball. So really I am comfortable at either position the coaches want me to play.”

The last few years have been up and down on the football field for Stewart. He has felt the highest of highs with wins at Georgia, and at Clemson. He has also felt some heartbreaking defeats as well. Stewart says that there are always two things that he will remember about his time at South Carolina.

“The fans, just playing in front of 80,000 people at every home game is incredible,” said Stewart. “I will always remember my teammates as well. Since I have came here I have had a chance to meet some great people, and I will always remember them.”

While Stewart’s time as Gamecock is coming to an end, there is still more than half a season ahead for him, and his teammates. Stewart believes that this team is capable of special things.

“I really feel that we can have a very successful season,” said Stewart. I’m not sure what bowl we can go to, but I feel that we can get to another bowl that is just as good, if not better.’

Stewart also feels that the Gamecocks have a bright future going forward even after he graduates. One can tell from his voice that he feels that the Gamecocks are on the path for even greater success.

“I feel like since I have been here, the recruiting classes we have had, that things have only gotten better,” said Stewart. “We have a lot of wonderful young players, and they bring such a competitive spirit to Carolina. I feel like with these young players, we have a program on the rise.”

Darian Stewart has been a surprise to all Gamecock fans since his arrival on campus as a lightly recruited prospect. When asked if Gamecock fans should expect any surprises this season. Stewart only had one thing to say.

“Just like Terrell Owens says, “Get your popcorn ready!””