A Maverick coach?

Meadowdale’s new leader adds air of confidence after losing days

By AARON COE

Herald Writer

EVERETT — Mark Stewart does not yell.

The former University of Washington star and new Meadowdale football coach doesn’t need to.

Players respect him because he knows the game, and because he was an All-America linebacker and one of the best defensive players the Huskies have ever had.

They respect him because he’s won everywhere he’s been.

And, well, the guy is huge. You wouldn’t want to make him yell.

"There’s been a couple of times where he’s told us to come up and hit him," senior running back Zach Streit said. "The guys ran up and barely touched him. He told us not to be intimidated, but … "

Stewart, who started at outside linebacker for Washington from 1980-82, had a combination of size (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and speed (he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds) that define an ideal college linebacker today.

"He was a good student and a good player," former Washington coach Don James said. "He lacked nothing, really.

"I thought he’d make a good college coach. He’s one that we would have liked to have had back to get his start in coaching."

The latest task for Stewart, who looks like he could still play today, is a difficult one. He is attempting to turn around a Meadowdale program that has struggled for several years, including an 0-9 record last season.

The Mavericks are 0-3 this year, but have shown drastic improvement. Meadowdale lost to Lake Stevens, considered by many a preseason favorite to win the Western Conference 3A. The Mavericks’ lost to a strong Sedro-Woolley team 34-30, and Blanchet beat them 17-7 in the season opener.

Stewart’s not happy to be 0-3, but he’s seen improvement every week.

And if anyone knows how to overcome adversity, it’s Stewart.

He’s suffered the losses of his mother, stepfather and two brothers over the years. Stewart went back home to California in 1997 for a year when he learned his brother, Phil, had cancer.

If one can make it through that much tragedy, football seems simple.

"To watch somebody that close to you go through that and feel that helpless — it affects you," said Stewart. "You learn to appreciate things that happen. There is always somebody in a worse situation than you."

Stewart, whose first head coaching job was at Renton from 1988-90, returned in 1998 to a tumultuous Renton program. He was hired to replace Chris Williams, who had been fired after just one game, a 28-0 loss.

Stewart lost his first game 42-0.

Renton won seven of its next eight games, went on to make the state playoffs that season and shocked an undefeated Ferndale team in the first round before losing to Capital, the eventual state champion.

Turning around the Mavericks may take more than one season, but Stewart believes it can be done. He’s already convinced his players, who have had three coaches in three years. And the former Pac-10 All-Academic Team member is emphasizing hitting the books as hard as Meadowdale opponents.

"He wants to make sure we’re all doing well in school and getting along with our teachers," said Chris Thorson, an outside linebacker who was one of several Meadowdale players to miss games because of academics in 1999. "In the past we’ve had academic problems, and he wants to put a stop to it. We’ve had a lot of talent, but most of the talent couldn’t play because of their grades."

With a full army on the field, the Mavericks are hoping to stop the losing streak against Jackson tonight at Everett Memorial Stadium.

"We do have some good talent on this team" said Stewart, who was selected in the fifth round of the NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings in 1983, and played with the Vikings in 1984 before injuries shortened his career. "We’ve got some size, and they’re learning to be more physical."

And he’d know something about being physical. Stewart’s game against UCLA in 1982, when he had five sacks and 17 tackles as the Huskies were fighting for a chance to play in a third consecutive Rose Bowl, is remembered by many as one of the greatest games ever played by a Washington linebacker. His 47 tackles for loss is still third all-time in Washington history.

"UCLA didn’t recruit me, so I always got fired up to play them," said Stewart, who grew up in San Jose. "It was just one of those days where everything seemed to work. Ideally you want a national championship to hang your hat on, but it’s nice to remember a game like that."

His former teammates remember him as much more than a physical specimen.

"He was such an intelligent player," said D.R. Clawson, a Seattle physician who played with Stewart at the UW. "He wasn’t just a good UW player, he was won of the best ever."

But Stewart isn’t one to brag about past conquests. He enjoys reminiscing once in a while, but will leave talk of his field dominance to the UW record books and his former teammates. He’s looking forward to the future with the Mavs.

"I’m kind of surprised anyone remembers when I played," Stewart said. "That was a long time ago. I’m an old man now."

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