Preparing for an MJ-less Future


By: Patrick Rita

Sentry Staff Reporter

For the past three seasons, the varsity football team has relied on handing the ball off to MJ Stewart and letting him dash through opposing defenses.  Whether it be returning punts, interception returns or 50 yard runs, Stewart has the innate ability to make plays.  So far this season, Stewart has racked up over 1600 yards of total offense and 24 touchdowns, according to the Washington Post’s  Stewart has already committed to play at the University of North Carolina next year.

However, all good things must come to an end and the Patriots are starting to prepare for Stewart’s absence next season.  The team got a taste of what life without Stewart would be like in their recent contest against the Chantilly Chargers on October 25.  Stewart sat out with an ankle injury he had received the previous week against the Wakefield Warriors. Stepping up in Stewart’s place were a handful of juniors such as Tayvon Brown (a transfer from Falls Church), Jack Storrs, Quinn Cox, Parker Dean and Joe McBride, to name a few.

Surprisingly, Stewart enjoyed being able to sit out the Chantilly game.

“It was actually exciting. I finally got to coach,” he says jokingly.  He can also attest to how the team took this game as an opportunity to improve and showcase their depth.

“I was proud to see my teammates step up for this one.”

McBride agrees that he and his fellow juniors compensated for Stewart’s absence by playing more as a team and required contributions from every player instead of solely relying on Stewart.

Despite the ecstasy felt after the big win against Chantilly, the most recent loss against Washington-Lee was slightly more telling of how life without Stewart will be like.  On a night where Stewart had a season-low 41 rushing yards, the Patriots struggled to get any offense going and the team seemed discombobulated as a whole.  Both Stewart and McBride agree that adjustments need to be made if the Patriots are going to have a shot at winning the regional tournament.

“[If we are going to win the region] we need to start playing more as a unit.  We cannot rely on MJ all the time,” said McBride.

“We are just going to have to come out and play hard every game, just like we did against Chantilly.  If the running game is not working like in the W-L game, then we will just have to get sharper in the passing game,” Stewart adds.

It is no doubt that adapting to life without Stewart will take time.  As McBride said about the Chantilly game,

“It was different not to see number six flying around making plays.”

However, the next generation of Patriots are willing to do what it takes to make up for Stewart’s absence.  Brown, a two-way starter for the Patriots, has put in a lot of work to get ready for this season.  Also, the other aforementioned juniors are planning to train rigorously in the offseason to make sure Stewart’s loss has as little impact as possible.

Unfortunately, there will be many changes in the offensive personnel next year. More than half of the offensive starters are seniors. While this is bound to hinder an already struggling offense, the Patriots have reason for hope.  For example, with their senior counterparts out with injuries, McBride and junior Cameron Logan rose to the occasion during the Wakefield game by making many big plays on offense both on the ground and through the air.  Throughout the season there have been many instances where underclassmen have embraced the spotlight.  The Patriots are hoping that with the experience these younger players are getting, it will make the transition from relying on Stewart much more smooth.

On the other side of the ball, almost all of the defensive starters are juniors and will have had much experience going into next year.  Aside from Stewart and a few other seniors, the defense will look pretty much the same next year, which is good news for the Patriots considering the defense has been a staple in the team’s success.

Next season Stewart will be playing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He looks forward to the opportunity and plans to compete to try and get a spot on the roster as early as possible.  While we wish him the best at UNC, it will still be difficult not to rely on number six anymore.  There are only a few games left where the Patriots will have their go-to playmaker.  However, football is a team sport, and the future of the team will now be placed in the hands of not one, but many juniors and sophomores who seek to carry on the Patriot legacy.