When Brandon Stewart crossed the line of scrimmage, it led him across international lines as well.
“I switched to defence, and I ended up in Canada,” the Bomber defensive back said with a laugh on Thursday following practice at Canad Inns Stadium.
The 24-year-old has become a Mr. Versatility of sorts for the Bombers. He plays several positions in the secondary, he has learned a little strong-side linebacker, he was practising kick returns on Thursday and, if that isn’t enough, he plays receiver on the offensive scout team as well.
The 6-foot-1, 193-pounder was always a receiver growing up, but that changed in 2006 when he arrived at Eastern Arizona Junior College, where they ran the Wing T offence.
“You’re running the ball every play and the receivers are cut blocking, so I’m like, ‘Well, time to play defence!’” said Stewart, who made the switch and impressed the Calgary Stampeders enough at a free agent camp a year later to earn an invitation north as a defensive back.
Stewart, who had just turned 21 when he arrived in Canada and wasn’t yet eligible for the NFL draft, knows diversity is a good thing to have on your resume. The more you can do, the better.
You also have to be persistent, which is a good way to describe Stewart through his first four CFL seasons. The world’s best roller-coasters feature fewer highs and lows than he has endured in his career.
“It’s been a rough road,” Stewart said. “It’s been up and down.”
He played one game with the Stamps in 2007 and spent the rest of the campaign on the practice roster. He played one game for Calgary in 2008 before being cut, so he went home to Seattle and entered the food service industry.
“I had enough of that,” Stewart said.
So he returned to football with the Abilene Ruff Riders of the Indoor Football League in January 2009 but signed with the Bombers a month later when John Murphy, the former Stamps scout, became Winnipeg’s director of player personnel and gave him another shot.
Stewart appeared in four games last season and was on either the injured or reserve list for another 12 weeks, meaning he earned a cheque but didn’t play. He finall y landed a starting gig this season, doing so in the first seven weeks, before getting demoted off the roster for Winnipeg’s game in Montreal on Aug. 19, after a couple of rough outings.
“That really just kind of made me work harder. It drove me,” Stewart said. “I wanted to get back on the field. I had to watch that Montreal game. I was watching my boys go to work and play and have fun out there, and I was just like, ‘I gotta get back on the field.’
“So I went home during the bye week and came back with a different mentality. It was back to work. We can be buddy buddy later. While we’re out here I gotta work.”
Stewart did get back on the field for last weekend’s Labour Day Classic as Winnipeg’s sixth defensive back, thanks to an injury to linebacker Bernard Hicks, and promptly recorded his first career interception against the Roughriders.
He is looking forward to the rematch on Sunday in the Banjo Bowl.
“They might want to be careful where they throw it back there. I might get another one,” said Stewart, whose only other CFL pick occurred during the 2007 pre-season, against current Bomber starter Steven Jyles.
“It helps the confidence. It felt good. I don’t even get picks like this in practice.”
Now he needs to keep himself on the roster, which might be difficult considering he got back in the lineup last week only as an injury replacement. His strong showing on Sunday in Regina won’t hurt his chances, though.
“The crew that played last week was pretty good,” head coach Paul LaPolice said of the Bomber secondary.
“You just try to find the best combination of guys, but he was part of that best combination.”