By Jimmy Allinder
It would be easy to mistake James Stewart for a streaking red locomotive trimmed in yellow zooming down the football field at Edison High School since the NJ Transit train tracks are close by.
However, that’s what the sturdy and lightning-quick halfback resembles when he takes a handoff and powers his way to the end zone. Stewart, a rising senior, made a habit of breaking through and away from opposing defenses last season, and he plans on doing the same thing this fall.
Stewart is one of the top offensive players in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) and hopes to add to the impressive statistics he accumulated in 2015, especially since junior Haziq Daniels — also a dangerous running threat — returns at quarterback.
As a junior, Stewart exploded onto the GMC scene by rushing 149 times for 1,284 yards and 15 touchdowns. In the eight games Stewart played (he was out for two contests), he eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark seven times with a season-high 277 yards against crosstown rival John P. Stevens High School on Thanksgiving Day.
“James is one of the fastest athletes I have ever seen,” said Matt Fulham, who has been head coach since 2005. “He can break a long run any time he touches the ball because of excellent vision combined with his power and finesse.”
Although Stewart’s pass-receiving talent wasn’t used often, Fulham says that could change this season.
“James is a threat to score every time he gets his hands on the ball, so we hope to get him more involved with the passing game,” he said.
Eagles fans will not be the only ones watching Stewart. There are numerous college scouts who believe he could play on the Football Championship Series (FCS) level. Among the schools that have expressed interest are Monmouth University, Temple University, Old Dominion University, Appalachian State University and Rutgers University — and more might join the crowd.
The statement is often overused, but it’s obvious Stewart was born to play football. His shake-and-bake style confounds tacklers who often grasp air instead of legs. It’s a style he developed as a seventh-grader when he played Pop Warner football for the first time.
“I was inserted at running back, and the position just felt natural to me,” Stewart said. “I loved the rush of adrenalin that came from running the ball, and it’s still a great feeling.”
Stewart admits one of the most difficult adjustments he’s had since playing varsity football is managing his time when it comes to schoolwork and playing sports (he runs track in the winter and spring).
“Playing sports and getting schoolwork done is something I still and always will have to work on,” he said. “Last fall, I didn’t start off strong in the classroom mainly because I wasn’t organized. But I started to use an agenda pad to keep track of homework assignments and upcoming tests, and that has helped.
“I’ve become so acclimatized to the routine, I’ve been able to get my work done and get the quality sleep I need. After a hard practice, it’s easy to want to do nothing but go to bed.”
Stewart says the bond he’s made with teammates is one of the things he enjoys about playing for the Eagles. He is also close to his family, and each member has been close supporters in a variety of ways.
“My dad, James Tisdale, and mother, Cheryl Tisdale, have guided me every step of the way in my life,” he said. “My uncle, Matthew Dunbar, has been like a personal mentor and has never missed any of my games. My godfather, Ernest Sills, and my grandmother, Deborah Stewart, have been there for me as well. Basically, the motivation to succeed on the football field is my family.”
Stewart takes an interesting approach to what he thinks about before he receives a pitch or handoff and where and how he will run.
“After the play is called, I get focused on just doing things naturally,” he said. “I’m confident in my abilities and rely on my instincts. I know I can make big plays and put our team in positions to win.”
That is what Stewart hopes will happen often this fall.