WVU’s Stewart Sees Evolution of Defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If there’s one player who can describe West Virginia’s most recent and new defensive systems accurately, it’s JoVanni Stewart. The rising senior played multiple positions in the 3-3 stack defense that was the base of previous WVU teams, and he is now moving to the spear spot in the hybrid system of new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
Along the way, he has also seen the evolution of football and the move to hybrid players, who blend the capabilities and assignments of multiple traditional positions into a new one.
“Safebacker” was the suggestion for the safety\linebacker mix from one of the veteran media members who has seen the game evolve multiple times over the decades.
“Football has changed so much,” Stewart concurred, who is now playing one of those safety/linebacker hybrid positions. “Now it’s more like seven-on-seven than straight downhill hard-nosed football. Speed is my advantage; it gives me more opportunities to make plays, and I feel more involved in the game.”
That’s not to suggest, though, that Stewart shies away from physical contact. In answering the call to play linebacker last year after the Mountaineers suffered an unprecedented string of injuries at the position, the 5-foot-8, 197-pound defender threw every last ounce of his being into taking on the massive guards and tackles that rumbled his way.
“I paid for it, most definitely,” he said with a rueful laugh.
There’s no doubt that from a physical perspective, the move to spear will help the Katy, Texas native. He shouldn’t have to accrue quite as many of the physical bangs and bumps that likely affected his play as the season wore on. He’ll also be able to draw on his experience in playing several positions, including one from a couple of years ago. That was the spur, which was similar, although certainly not identical, to the spear he is manning this year.
“The coaches told me the spear is kind of the way the spur was last year,” Stewart said, referring to the way the defense is build outward from that spot. “I still have a lot of responsibilities in my position. It’s fun, a lot more fun than what I have done in the past. Don’t get me wrong, last year was fun, but I didn’t feel like I was an every down linebacker.”
At the spear, playing the wide side of the field, Stewart will also be able to bring his speed to bear in more ways than just running around opposing blockers. While he has no regrets about sacrificing for the team a year ago, there is not doubt that he is looking forward to playing a position that more closely aligns with his abilities. In that regard, he’s an example of Koenning’s stated desire to fit the system to the player, one that he believes will bring benefits to the 2019 team.
“There are definitely a lot more aggressors in our defense, especially with the play calls,” he said. “Now, it’s more like ‘Go get it.'”