WINNIPEG - Two years ago, the junior college product could barely get on the field.
Brandon Stewart dressed for four games for the Blue Bombers in 2009. Last year, he suited up for 17 of Winnipeg’s games, mostly as a backup defensive back and special teams soldier.
This season, Stewart has not only found a home at cornerback, he is enjoying an all-star campaign.
“Everything takes time, I guess, like fine wine,” the affable Stewart said with a laugh Tuesday. “You’ve just got to wait for opportunity and whenever it presents itself, you’ve just got to take advantage of it and keep trying to get better. So, I feel like I’m doing OK now, but I still have a lot of stuff that I feel like I want to get better in personally to help my team.”
Stewart has not only become a shutdown corner, he’s picked off four passes — tied for second in the CFL — and returned the last one 83 yards for a touchdown against Hamilton on Friday.
“I’ve been happy so far with some of the outcomes that happen in games, a couple of picks,” said the 6-foot-1, 193-pound Seattle, Wash., native who attended Eastern Arizona Junior College for just one year. “But I know it’s all for nothing if, as a team, we don’t get to where we want to be.
“I don’t really care about individual awards. Being an all-star would be nice, but being able to hoist the (Grey) Cup would be even greater. So, my individual achievements are OK but we know where we want to be — I know where I want to be with my teammates at the end of the year.”
Stewart, 25, has obviously became an integral part of the solid Winnipeg defence after struggling to earn that starting spot.
The key was changing his position to the wide side of the field.
“He started as a boundary (short-side) halfback for us, at times, last year,” said Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice. “We liked his athletic ability but, for somebody who hasn’t played a lot of football, that’s a difficult position. There’s a lot different things you have to think about.
“You have to cross over and play to the field and play to the boundary … He’s a big, tall kid, and when the ball’s in the air, he can make plays on the football. That’s what I love about him, he’s a former receiver. So, I think the move to field corner really increased his productivity.”
But it won’t get any easier when the Bombers have to defend against Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray and such receivers as Fred Stamps in Edmonton this Saturday.
“They’ve got a pretty explosive offence so, we’ve got to be ready for Ricky Ray and the Eskimos to play a good football game,” said Stewart, who is taking aim at teammate Jovon Johnson’s CFL-leading six picks.
“I told him I’m not going to let him get it easy. I’m going to come get ya. I’m trying to get two to catch up to him before he gets two. It’s a friendly competition.”