The upcoming NFL season, if it is played, will be M.J. Stewart’s third, and the Yorktown High School graduate is more than eager for this month’s training camp then the 2020-21 season to start.
“I just want to get to training camp,” said the 5-foot-11, 200-pound defensive back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “We’ve been doing ‘virtual’ workouts and other stuff, so I’m just ready for some real practice sessions.”
The Buccaneers and other NFL teams have had limited access to their training facilities in recent weeks because of restrictions regarding the COVID-10 pandemic.
There is a lot of anticipation surrounding the Buccaneers because of the team’s offseason signing of Super Bowl quarterback Tom Brady and his former tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Stewart is happy to be a part of that.
“It will be fun going against them in practice, that’s for sure,” Stewart said. “Maybe I can intercept a Tom Brady pass and knock some down. There is a lot of excitement going around.”
Stewart is hoping his third season will be a charm as far as his health. Leg injuries sidelined him for parts of the past two campaigns.
“I’m healthy and ready to rock and roll,” Stewart said. “I know my role on the team, and the coaches know what I can do. My goal is to have my best season.”
Stewart, 24, was a second-round draft pick of the Buccaneers out of the University of North Carolina. He has been primarily a fifth defensive back his first two seasons, receiving a lot of playing time.
In 10 games last season, Stewart made 35 tackles, of which 28 of them were solo. He also deflected two passes and played a lot on special teams. Stewart did miss multiple games with a slight knee injury.
At Yorktown for three seasons, Stewart was a three-way standout at running back, defensive back and kick returner. He helped the Patriots win a district championship and reach a region-championship game his senior season, running for nearly 2,000 yards that fall and scoring 29 touchdowns.
Longtime Yorktown head coach Bruce Hanson has called Stewart the best player he has ever coached.
Hanson tells a story about having a special play set up for Stewart in one game. It was never used because Stewart ran 97 yards for a touchdown a few plays prior.
“I was so excited about that special play,” Hanson said. “But after M.J. ran for that touchdown, there was no reason to use that play. Then we never got back to it in other games.”
Stewart played his first season of high-school football as a freshman at Bishop O’Connell.
At North Carolina, Stewart played for four seasons where he became an all-conference defensive back, and he also returned kicks.