However Your Spell It, Stewart Helps Lead WVU’s D
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–I finished off my interview with WVU senior JoVanni Stewart recently by asking him a question that I should have posed to him several years ago when he first came to West Virginia from Katy, Texas.
“Your first name, does it have a capital V?” I inquired.
“Yeah,” chuckled JoVanni, whose name is often misspelled Jovanni. “The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize that myself until I was in third grade. I saw my mom filling out a form one day with my name on it, and I asked her, ‘Why do you have a big V?’ She said, ‘That’s the way you’re name is spelled. You didn’t know that?’ I didn’t at that point, but I made sure to use the capital V after that.”
Not that everyone else has always followed suit, but for the laidback Stewart, it’s not something that bothers him too much.
For him, what’s really important is what happens on the football field.
First, Stewart is relearning an old position.
Last year the Mountaineers went through a bizarre string of injuries within its linebacking corps. In game two, then-defensive coordinator Tony Gibson made the unconventional switch of bringing the 5-foot-8, 197-pound Stewart up from a safety position, where he had played since arriving at West Virginia in 2016, and thrust him into the starting job at sam linebacker.
Though he usually gave up at least 100 pounds to the offensive tackles who tried to block him, Stewart actually flourished at the new position. He finished fourth on the team in tackles with 54, and only David Long, who had 19 tackles for loss and eight sacks, topped Stewart in either of those departments, as he had 10.5 TFLs and four sacks.
Now in West Virginia’s new 4-2-5 hybrid defense, Stewart is going back to the past somewhat, manning the “spear” position. Though he did well at the sam, the spear is a better fit for someone of his stature.
“It’s a whole lot more comfortable for me in terms of play style,” he admitted. “The spear is almost like the spur position (which was a safety position he played in WVU’s previous 3-3-3 odd stack defense). It’s similar. There is more man coverage responsibility with the spear, which is good, but for the most part it’s similar.”
The biggest adjustment for Stewart is getting used to pass coverage again, which is something he didn’t have to do as much last year when he moved to linebacker.
“When I was playing Sam there was a whole lot of just tackling, so I definitely had to get me feet wet again,” he noted in referring to his pass coverage. “But I’m doing good now.”
Besides having to learn a new defense and relearn the safety position, Stewart is also having to adjust to a new defensive coordinator. Vic Koenning followed WVU’s first-year head coach Neal Brown from Troy, and he’s installed the 4-2-5 scheme.
“He wants guys to be on the same page as him, which I understand,” Stewart said of Koenning. “He’s a real brilliant person. It was hard for some guys to catch on at first, but he’s a great coach, definitely.
“He knows what he’s talking about, that’s for sure. But he wants guys to understand also.”
For a cerebral type like Stewart, Koenning’s teaching has opened his eyes in some areas.
“It’s good for me, honestly,” said the sports and exercise psychology major. “The way he schemes things up, he definitely boosts my IQ. I study things more now and pay attention to things now that I didn’t before, like formations and stuff. If you buy into what he’s talking about and study your film and stuff, you’ll almost know what’s coming before it happens.”
It may have taken JoVanni several years to learn the correct spelling of his first name, but it sounds like he’s getting a handle of WVU’s new defense pretty quickly.