Buffalo Bills linebacker Tony Steward was back in town Thursday, hanging out with his brother, Texas San Antonio freshman running back Halen Steward, and speaking to the St. Johns County Sports Club at The Corner Bar Sports Bar & Grill on Anastasia Boulevard.
“St. Augustine is an amazing town,” the former Menendez star said at the podium. “Coming back, I see what some people have done to give back and others I see what mistakes they make.”
Steward said he spoke to Menendez’s football players earlier in the week ”to put a light on at the end of the tunnel for them,” letting them know that good things can happen for those who work hard.
There is no better example for the kids of a player who has managed adversity than Tony Steward.
He overcame two anterior cruciate ligament tears in less than a year. He suffered a back injury last December in his first opportunity in a regular-season game.
And last month he lost his fiancé, Brittany Burns, to ovarian cancer.
“Being around my family and being able to come home really helped,” the Hastings native said. “Those last couple of months with my fiancé was pretty tough.”
He said volunteering to help disabled children, “seeing what they go through every day of their lives,” has helped him cope.
He has also been busy working with the foundation he and Burns established after she was diagnosed in December. They started the foundation to help other ovarian cancer patients cope with the disease.
As much hardship as Steward has had to deal with, he knows he is lucky to be playing in the NFL, especially after tearing his left ACL in his final high school game and then tearing his right ACL midway through his freshman season at Clemson.
By his senior season in 2014, the former five-star recruit had worked his way all the way back and become one of the top linebackers in the country. Still, if it hadn’t been for his Clemson teammate, Seth Ryan, son of Bills coach Rex Ryan, Steward said he probably wouldn’t have been drafted.
The Bills picked Steward in the sixth round last year, and Seth Ryan called him with the news.
“I had no expectation of getting drafted by the NFL,” he said. “I expected to sign a free agent contract. But I got a call from one of my teammates, and 30 seconds into the call I saw my name flash on the TV screen. I thought, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’ It was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
When Steward met Rex Ryan, the Bills coach told him the biggest reason the team drafted him was because of the kind of person Steward is.
“Now every time I see him he cusses me out, gives me some crap,” Steward said. “He is probably crazier than what you hear about.
“But Rex Ryan had that connection with Clemson and gave me a shot, and I told myself, ‘I’m going to make the most of it.’ ”
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