Once an imposing, hard-hitting safety, Sean Stewart charmed, laughed and cried while at the podium during the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony that took place last week. The room burst into laughter when Stewart admitted, “I cried during Lion King.”
From that point on, Stewart commanded the room with stories of his college recruitment, a touching tribute to his wife Nia and some brief words about his life as part of the Coast Guard. Sometimes the nature of his job even prevents him from seeing his family. He wasn’t even quite sure how long it had been since he had seen his mother – perhaps an entire year. Mom, smiling proudly, was there on this night.
Mom looked on as the 2003 graduate vividly recalled his time at Concordia and how it shaped him into what he became.
“Concordia lays a Christian foundation for its students,” Stewart told the audience gathered in the Janzow Campus Center. “I’ve been all over the world conducting law enforcement missions and I’ve been in some dangerous situations. Concordia University provided me the opportunity to become a servant leader in the community and in the world.”
Stewart took his rightful place in the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame last week. His contributions to head coach Courtney Meyer’s football program were immense, but what he’s done since his graduation has been even more impressive. He’s proudly raised a family centered upon Christian values and has put his life on the line for his country.
Concordia couldn’t ask for a better person to represent it. It’s not a place Stewart likely thought he would end up while spending his formative years in Beaumont, Texas. Though he was an excellent football player, he told people he didn’t have any interest in playing the sport in college. Still, the letters poured in by the hundreds. According to former Concordia assistant coach Bill McAllister, Stewart even had a scholarship offer from LSU.
The chances of Stewart landing in Seward may have been worse than 100 to 1. Let him explain.
“I had a box of letters that I received from Oregon, USC, Alabama, Oregon State – you name it,” Stewart said. “The coach from Arkansas came down to see me and wanted me to play for him. I didn’t want to play football. My mom reached into this box and out of all the letters in that box – over 100 letters – Concordia University was the letter she grabbed. She called Coach McAllister or Coach Meyer and said, ‘I want my son to go to school here.’”
When the idea of playing football at Concordia was first brought up to Stewart, he quipped, “Are they D-I?”
“My mom had no idea what Concordia was, but she researched it and found out it was a Christian university,” Stewart said. “My parents wanted to see me play football one last time.”
And wow could he play. Stewart finished his four-year Bulldog career with 290 tackles and a school record 20 interceptions. The All-American equaled a school single-season record with nine picks in 2002. He was a major reason behind Concordia’s co-GPAC title and NAIA playoff berth in 2001.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds his senior year, Stewart struck debilitating fear into opposing ball carriers and would-be pass catchers. While speaking to the current Concordia football team in preparation for its homecoming game, Stewart told the student-athletes, “When I hit someone, I tried to take their soul.”
Said Meyer of Stewart, “He was an outstanding safety. He’s probably one of the overall best players that I’ve coached. He is a great young man and humble. Boy could he hit you.”
Humble, but funny. Stewart’s sense of humor resonated often throughout his speech of more than 13 minutes. He began by introducing his family, which includes his son Sean II and daughter Ivy. As he spoke directly to his son, he told him, “You’re 10 times the athlete that I ever was at your age. You’re stronger. Bigger. Not as fast. Not as fast.”
As he proudly donned his Coast Guard uniform, Stewart continually professed his faith and how it’s guided his life. A member of the Coast Guard since 2012, he serves within an atmosphere that promotes secular thoughts. In other words, let’s not talk about God or faith. That’s just not Stewart.
Through his journey that led him to chase his dream to play in the NFL and then to the U.S. Naval War College and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Stewart has been guided by the lessons that were instilled in him while at Concordia.
“It’s an honor and a privilege and I’m proud to say that Concordia University laid a Christian foundation for me,” Stewart said. “It provided me with the tools to become a servant leader throughout this country and throughout this world in whatever I do. It’s provided me a guiding light and Christian values that I’ve instilled in my Christian home.”
It’s safe to say that Stewart is thankful his mother picked Concordia out of that box. More than a decade after his graduation, something about this place still gets him choked up.
“800 North Columbia Avenue. I could never forget that address,” Stewart said. “There are so many memories I had to hold back tears.”