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Former OL Stewart returns to law school

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, October 18, 2013

Most people just want another year of college. Chris Stewart knows the feeling.

The former Irish offensive lineman is back on campus to finish law school after a hiatus to pursue a professional football career. By the time he graduates law school in 2015, Stewart would have spent nearly two college careers at Notre Dame after enrolling in January of 2006.

“I came here early in 2006 and by the time I’m done in 2015, take off time for those years I did football away, you’re still looking at about a decade of being affiliated with the University when most people get four, five tops,” Stewart said. “It’s kind of strange.”

Stewart played his final season with the Irish in 2010, when Notre Dame went 8-5 in Irish coach Brian Kelly’s first season, capped by a season-ending, four-game win streak.

In that win streak, the Irish knocked off rival USC in the final game of the regular season after the Trojans had beaten Notre Dame eight straight times. The Irish were without their starting quarterback, running back and tight end when they beat the Trojans 20-16 in Los Angeles.

“Anytime you play in the [Los Angeles Memorial] Coliseum, it’s almost like a mind-boggling experience,” Stewart said. “It’s not something you readily forget.”

The Irish offense, directed by then-freshman quarterback Tommy Rees, had trouble moving the ball and committed four turnovers before coming alive on its final drive. Down 16-13 with 6:18 left, Notre Dame took over at its own 23-yard line.

But running back Robert Hughes and Cierre Wood made the drive count. They combined to carry five times for 62 yards, punctuated by Hughes’ five-yard plunge into the end zone with 2:23 left in the game.

Stewart said the way the Irish won – by running the ball successfully – was “icing on the cake.”

“It’s not only that you get the win at the end, but the fashion that you win it in,” Stewart said. “To be able to run the ball down the field and know that you’re in total control of the game, imposing your will on the other team for the win, that’s something special. That’s something that every offensive lineman looks forward to.”

The win was one of two for the Irish in their last three meetings with the Trojans.

A month later, Stewart finished his Notre Dame career with a 33-17 throttling of Miami in the Sun Bowl. He said the four-game winning streak was a good ending for both the up-and-down 2010 season and his up-and-down Irish career.

“I always tell people that we may have gone through some of the hardest times in Notre Dame [history],” Stewart said. “But it was so gratifying for me to start it on a high coming in during [Brady Quinn’s] era and then going through the deep valley of 3-9 [in 2007] and all this other crazy stuff, a coaching change and ending, beating USC, having a four-game win streak, destroying Miami and then, all of a sudden, you set the base, the foundation for a team going to the national championship a few years later. That was a cool way to go out.”

Stewart’s last year of college football was also his first – of law school. He was the only player in the FBS to also be enrolled in law school. He said attempting to balance his school work and football was “terrible.”

“I always tell people ‘If reincarnation is real and I can come back and do it again, I probably wouldn’t because it was that terrible,'” he said. “One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. But now, being on the other side of it and having a chance to really make something of my legal career, it’s something that I carry personally that’s unique and it’s pretty special to have that, no one else has ever done it before.”

After a brief stint in the NFL with the New York Jets and the Arizona Cardinals, Stewart returned to law school at Notre Dame in the spring of this year. Before coming back to South Bend, Stewart also worked at law firms in Houston and Chicago.

Stewart said getting back in the swing of things at law school was difficult at first but that he has now readjusted.

“There’s a certain way law-school work is done versus working in the real world,” he said. “They’re a lot different in the way law school tests for grades versus how you actually do work in the real world. I really struggled coming back, not so much with the material but remembering how to actually take certain tests and be successful in the grading scales. They’re just very, very different.”

Stewart, 26, also has some administrative duties with the athletic department.

“Seeing that stuff now, it’s different, it’s weird,” he said. “It’s like I’m actually a grown-up.”

He said he was blessed to be involved with Notre Dame in so many ways and for such a long time.

“Coming to this school and seeing it in so many ways and the doors that it has opened and continues to open, is such a blessing and mind-boggling,” Stewart said. “When people say it’s a special place, it really, truly is, especially if you take the tools you learned from it and apply it to life.”

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]