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Chris Stewart: Law school simply another challenge for Stewart

Laura Myers | Thursday, November 11, 2010

Article 2.6.4 of the Notre Dame Law School’s academic code strongly discourages first-year students from any employment, due to the “academic rigor of the required curriculum,” but it doesn’t say anything about first-year students starting for a Division I football program.

Offensive lineman Chris Stewart could be setting a new precedent.

Stewart, a fifth-year player who graduated from Notre Dame in three and a half years, is the first Irish player and the Football Bowl Series’ only active player enrolled in law school.

But school has far from distracted him from his final year at Notre Dame.

“I’m definitely invested. I’m not giving up on my football career,” he said. “Law school is second to football in my mind, because I’ve been at this longer and it’s the more imminent thing.

“It’s easy to stay focused because this is my last time around.”

Stewart, by far the biggest member of the team at six-foot-five and 351 pounds, came to Notre Dame as a defensive tackle but did not play as a freshman. He switched to the offensive line in the fall prior to his sophomore year.

He played in just six games before cementing himself as a starter. He has started 31 of his 37 career games, including every game he has played in the last three seasons, and has started more games than any other offensive player.

Being the most experienced member of the offense is not without its duties, Stewart said.

“It brings a lot more responsibility, culpability, everything like that,” he said. “Whether it’s spoken or not, people look up to you, guys look up to you, coaches expect you to be there for guys after hours or on the field, all kinds of stuff. You really have to focus. And with so much going on in your own life, be able to focus on people too, because at the end of the day that’s what it’s about.”

Of course, Stewart does have a good amount to focus on.

He is enrolled in 12 credit hours, which he said is the equivalent to 18 or 21 undergraduate hours.

He wakes up at 7 a.m. most mornings for homework or a workout. From there, he’s in class until one. Preparation for football practice starts at two, and players are usually done between 6 and 7 p.m.

After three or four hours of studying, Stewart heads to bed, where he aims for seven hours of sleep a night.

“Then I get up and do it all over again,” he said.

Neither his football friends nor his law school buddies can grasp his lifestyle, he said.

“Everybody thinks I’m crazy,” Stewart said. “I’ve definitely gotten that. It’s cool, though. It’ll pay off in the long run.”

In fact, it already has. Stewart graduated in 2009 with an honors degree in history, with a self-designed concentration in Caribbean Studies. He was an ESPN First-Team Academic All-District honoree in 2009, and is an academic all-district selection again this year. Additionally, the National Football Foundation chose him as a National Scholar-Athlete — a designation that comes with an $18,000 scholarship and puts him in the running for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which honors the best scholar-athlete in the country.

Fifth-year senior Barry Gallup, Jr., also an academic all-district selection, said the two joke about one day starting a business together.

“We’re supposed to keep it a secret but he and I are talking about going into business sometime,” Gallup said. “I’ll run the business side and he’ll handle the legal part. He’s obviously an unbelievable kid, and a kid that everyone should look up to.”

The name of the business would reference their size difference — Gallup is listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds — but the two have yet to discuss what it would do.

“Make money somehow,” Gallup said.

But aside from jokes, Stewart tries to keep his football and law school lives separate as much as possible.

“I’ve evolved this rule that I don’t study Friday or Saturday,” he said. “That’s time strictly devoted for football, for final preparations for the game. So I take a hiatus from that Friday after I leave the law school to that Sunday. It’s better to have 100 percent focus on football for 48 hours.”

That much of a break could leave him at a disadvantage, so he has to work even harder after each game weekend.

“Sunday and Monday, the days when we don’t have as much going on here, I really have to buckle down and study and catch up,” he said. “So I’m kind of playing catch up the whole time, but that works way better than bringing it on the road, trying to figure out complex ideas on a bus or on a plane. That’s not smart.”

And while Stewart carried a 3.536 grade point average as an undergrad, including a 3.834 in his final semester, he won’t have any idea about his law school grades until the end of the semester.

“[There are] no midterms. We have take-home practice exams, and the whole grade is based on a test at the end of the semester,” he said. “One four-hour test basically determines your whole grade.”

After graduation, Stewart took a year of graduate classes, including a few law classes, before deciding to apply to law school. In spring 2009, while enrolled in a torts class and one other special studies law course, he took the LSAT.

“Anyone who’s in law school would tell you, unless they’re a genius, that that test [is terrible],” he said. “It’s one of the toughest tests I’ve ever taken.”

During the admissions process, he was asked about his next step, and he answered honestly: Football would come before law school.

“Law school is a great career, you can always come back to it,” he said. “The pro aspect, you really can’t come back to it.”

With nearly one year of law school done, Stewart will focus on his goal of getting to the NFL — after this season is over.

“Right now I’m going to focus on ending the season in a good way,” he said. “… I want to be here as long as possible as a Notre Dame football player.”

However, he made sure his intention of leaving school to go to the pros would not hurt his law school application.

“I made it very obvious that it’s my goal to come back here and finish,” he said. “Law school is only three years and I kind of have a year under my belt anyway. So it’s not that big of a deal to come back and spend two more years to get a degree. That’s not bad at all. I’ve been in school for like 10 years straight, even summers, so a break will be needed.

“And I’ll have a chance to focus on football.”