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February 12, 2013It was the fall of 2010 when Coalfield offensive and defensive lineman Zack Stewart stepped two feet squarely on a varsity football field. He was a 13-year-old 8th-grader and for 13 games he battled against other players that were as much as six years older.
"I never went out there and expected to lose," Stewart said. "I went out to compete and it was a little intimidating at first because I was going up against some seniors like Shaquille Love at Harriman who went to Kentucky. I quickly learned that I could play and go against anyone and I never looked back."
Stewart exited the 7th grade standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 200 pounds. When he arrived for the first day of classes in 2010, he had added two inches and 50 pounds. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Coalfield head coach Keith Henry knew he had a special player and he made the decision to push the envelope with his young mauler.
"I had never done that before," Henry said. "We talked to his mom and dad and we felt like he was mature, both physically and mentally. He worked at it all summer long going into that season. He was good enough to play and we knew he was special. He just handled himself like a veteran."
All he did that season was collect 45 tackles and five sacks. Not too bad for a kid that had barely reached his teenage years. In his bare feet, Stewart currently goes 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds. He's a big kid from the hills of Morgan County that paves the road for a lot of Coalfield scores.
"I feel like I cave block well and I know how to help get the tough yardage," Stewart said. "No one has got me since I was in 8th grade. I get people out of the hole and open up running lanes."
Last season, Stewart tallied 117 tackles and 14 sacks which earned him All-State honors. He disrupts a lot of plays on defense and continually makes things tough on opposing coaches.
"I string out plays," Stewart said. "I'm long so I'm able to get running backs by sealing the edge and then falling back inside to make the play."
Henry is often left with his jaw dropped when watching Stewart.
"There were times that he would run down a running back 40 yards down the field to save a touchdown," the coach said. "Then on offense, he would be way out in front of the play with key blocks for our backs. He's just an unselfish player. He's a smart kid too, with a 4.0 GPA."
A soon to be junior, Stewart will be a problem for teams like Knoxville Catholic, Chattanooga Notre Dame, Oneida and others the next two years.
"Zack is someone you have to account for on every play," Oneida Head Coach Tony Lambert said. "He's big and athletic and unbelievable for a sophomore. He dominates and I've coached against some of the state's best or coached some of the best in All-Star games. He certainly looks and plays like he belongs among the best players in the state. He's the best young offensive lineman at this stage of the career."
Stewart will attend Tennessee's Junior day on Saturday. He's received mail from the Vols, LSU, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky and others. If Tennessee does offer, Stewart will have a hard choice to make because a chance to play for the orange and white has been a lifelong dream.
"It would mean the world," Stewart said. "I haven't met any of the coaches yet, but it's been my dream since I was a young boy. I don't know what else other schools have to offer, but Tennessee has always been my first choice."
Stewart worked with current VFL coordinator Antone Davis before the former Vol was hired by Tennessee.