For Walter Stewart, a career at a crossroads

You can hurt for Cincinnati defensive end Walter Stewart today. But do not feel bad for Walter Stewart today.

If anybody can handle the devastating news he has received, it is the player coach Butch Jones calls the heart and soul of his team, the most mature player on his team, the unquestioned leader on his team.

Stewart most likely will never play another down of football again, and that is a great shame. He would have been a high NFL draft pick, and an outstanding contributor to the team lucky enough to select him, making an impact the way Derek Wolfe has his rookie season. Yes, Stewart lives his life for football. He used football as a way to find himself. His arrival at Cincinnati was a blessing itself, after a rocky childhood nearly left him with nothing.

Nobody pegged him for a college football player, but the truth is, Stewart is too big a man to be labeled that way. He is more than a football player. He is a survivor, a mentor and a leader. Football does not have to be taken from him forever, though he may not play another down.

"He has as strong a foundation of any individual his age I've ever been a part of," Jones said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. "He's taken it exceptionally well. He's realistic. He's deciding what he wants to do with his life if football playing is not there. I'm trying to convince him to give coaching a try. I think that's his passion, and I think he can be an asset to this profession. When he speaks, the kids listen. I fully anticipate him doing that if playing football is out of the realm. You'll see him on the sidelines with us."

You understand why Jones wants Stewart to go into coaching. But this is all new to Stewart, who has just started to come to grips with his new reality, and the crushing diagnosis.

Jones said, "This is a young man and a family that's gone through a gamut of emotions. You go through a week of testing and they say football may be taken from you the rest of your life. All his life, all he's known is playing football. He's worked exceptionally hard. It's been traumatic for everyone but the resiliency, the poise he's shown, the inner drive to still push and be there for his teammates. If you ask him what the biggest regret is right now or the biggest thing he's struggling is in very Walter Stewart fashion. He feels he's not there enough for his teammates. He is, but that's just him."

Stewart will not throw himself a pity party. He has his life, and a college education and a great future ahead of him. Where one dream has been taken from him, another is sure to follow. Jones calls Stewart a "powerful force." If Stewart so chooses, he will have the power to shape the lives of young men.

That may end up being more valuable than what he has lost.