Tony Steward's road to the NFL was anything but easy. After he was hyped as one of college football's most coveted recruits, Steward tore his ACL during his senior year of high school. Although a definite setback, the 6-1 linebacker continued to hold scholarship offers from many elite programs.
Steward chose to attend Clemson University, a 400-mile trek north from his hometown of Hastings, Florida. After a full recovery, he began to make an impact as a freshman, appearing in each of his team's first five games. Just when he thought he was totally back to 100 percent, adversity struck once again. In an October practice, Steward suffered another torn ACL, this time in his other knee. He could have easily folded, but Steward demonstrated that with perseverance, anything is possible.
"Honestly, I just looked at it as a bump in the road," said Steward. "Things happen. You have to go through some hardships but I'm just one of those guys who just put their head down and keep working."
Although it was his initial expectation to crack the starting lineup once his knee was deemed healthy enough, Steward had to wait. As Clemson's linebackers developed in Steward's absence, the former high school All-American had to find a different way to help his team win during his sophomore and junior seasons.
"It's something I enjoy doing," said Steward. "It was my role early on at Clemson and I took it and ran with it. I was good at it and I enjoyed it and you know I am going to give it everything I've got every time I'm out there on the field."
As evidenced by the words of Doug Whaley, the Bills executed their plan in acquiring special teams playmakers late in the draft.
"That's what we were looking for with this last day," said Whaley. "Finding guys that will give us special teams help and some (positional) depth that will be in the system and contribute a year or two from now at a higher level."
Although he hopes to make immediate contributions on special teams, the Bills invested a sixth-round pick in hopes that Steward can develop into a impactful linebacker. As a senior, Steward burst onto the scene in time for scouts to witness his capabilities. He recorded 73 tackles including ten for loss. A leader of the defense, Steward flashed the explosiveness that once attracted virtually every top college football program. Buffalo was one team to take notice. Bills Director of Player Personnel Jim Monos said he was in consensus with the entire staff while evaluating Steward's potential.
"We were all at the Pro Day, myself, Doug Whaley, Coach Ryan," said Monos. "He was awesome at the Pro Day, he's 240 pounds and runs 4.64 all day, loves football, tough, productive, we're excited about him."
Although Steward had a productive senior season, injury concerns hampered his draft stock. After a thorough medical evaluation, the Bills stated that they feel confident that Steward has finally gotten over the injury bug that almost derailed his career. Steward is in agreement with the organization.
"(My knees) are 100 percent," Steward said. "I played three years on them now with no problem at all so I'm very confident. I feel great. I feel like I'm a competitor and I can come in and do what I have to do to make the team."