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September 7, 2012Do you remember how work was 642 days ago? Walter Stewart does and it haunts him to this day.
Minutes after whipping ACC-bound Pittsburgh 34-10, Stewart was angrily recalling the inspiration for his All-Conference caliber performance.
"The one game I will always remember is the year they beat the crap out of us here in 'The Nipp'," said Stewart. "With this being our last time playing them we really wanted to get after them."
December 4th, 2010 Pittsburgh players walked onto a blustery, snowy University of Cincinnati campus and smacked the UC football team in the face. Then they knocked them over. Then they stepped on their collective throat.
It was the day that will live in infamy. The day The Bearcat was detained by campus police for resisting what was he resisting exactly? On that fateful day UC lost the game, the confidence of many in the fan base, and even a mascot.
Pitt running back Dion Lewis rushed for 261 yards by his lonesome. Read that figure again. The same future pro rumbled for four touchdowns obliterating a prideful UC defense. It was an awful way to end a season, and for some unfortunate Cats a career.
It was ugly and clearly a game that resonated with Stewart.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah," said Stewart. "We remind them (teammates) all the time. Coach Jones reminds us too, especially the younger guys that weren't around. We let them know, 'Hey, this trophy is a big deal.' And this rivalry is a big deal, especially considering how they beat the crap out of us on our home field."
Every year for the past eight years the aforementioned trophy was up for grabs, available for the victor's trophy case. What makes this particular win so special is the impending conclusion of the rivalry.
With Pittsburgh moving to the ACC in June these two football teams are unlikely to battle again any time soon.
"We really put in a lot of work this offseason preparing for them, talking about them, and focusing on getting the trophy and keeping it," said Stewart. "So this one means a lot."
The previously soft-spoken Stewart has really come out of his shell this calendar year as he senses that senior urgency so embedded in college athletics.
"As you get older you just get more responsibility," said Stewart. "I would say I have definitely grown a lot."
Stewart was good as a starting sophomore Leo linebacker. In 2011, Big Stew was great all season out of the three point stance. What can Bearcat fans expect from their defensive captain in the months to come?
"As a player you go through stages of growth," said Stewart. "By the time you become a fifth year senior you take charge and make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do. And you help with the development of the younger players. You work hand-in-hand with the coaches as well as working on yourself."
To quote an awkward assistant coach from American Pie this season amounts to 'A Culmination' of all the hard work Stewart has put in. And he has a brilliant outlook on the effects of losing NFL draft pick Derek Wolfe.
"Between (Derek) Wolfe and John (Hughes) they probably 15-16 sacks. I look at it as there are 16 more sacks out there to get. There are just more opportunities out there.
Big Walt picked up 2.0 sacks Thursday night.
How does it feel?
Most will never know what it is like to sack a quarterback on national television in a full stadium of supporters. Let Walt tell it.
"Aww, man. When you get a sack it is like getting a touchdown for real. You know? It is hard to get first off, especially in Division One. It is just hard to get in there period. When you get in there you just have to enjoy it, embrace the moment."
Stewart expounded on the rush he gets from dropping the dainty passers.
"It is definitely a big weight off of your shoulders, especially if it is third down," said Stewart. "You get off the field. You gotta get there. It is hard to get there, especially with a mobile quarterback like Tino is. He is kind of shifty. Getting there is hard work, but you just have to enjoy it once you do get there."
The leader tallied nine tackles, 3.5 TFL's, and a forced a fumble. In short he was nudging perfect. He loved the third down sack and raised his closed fist in the air immediately to signify fourth down.
Perhaps Walter Stewart will cling to this one proud memory when remembering UC-Pitt battles. In a perfect world he would relive the third down sack of Tino Sunseri in front of a packed house of friends, family, and fans on ESPN Thursday Night Football. This moment of jubilation should be frozen in time within Walt's mind, capable of summoning throughout his life.
"It meant a lot to get them tonight."
Perhaps Stewart will replace that embarrassing loss with this uplifting win in his memory bank. Considering how competitive and driven Walt is my guess is probably not.