York High running back Dayjure Stewart dedicates play, future in football to late brother

Five years ago, Dayjure Stewart's older brother was murdered. Now, the York High back is enjoying a stellar season, and dedicating it to his brother.

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One of Dayjure Stewart’s favorite memories of his brother took place about 10 years ago.

Stewart was 8 or 9 years old, and his family went out to eat at Chopsticks, a Chinese restaurant chain in York. Among them was Jordan Breeland, Stewart’s older brother by eight years. Stewart, like many younger brothers, looked up to Breeland.

During the meal at Chopsticks, Breeland, who Stewart described as a “jokester,” stood up, put chopsticks up his nose and walked around with a goofy look on his face. It was the type of mischief that a younger brother such as Stewart found hilarious — and he still does to this day.

Naturally, Stewart mimicked his big brother. Two kids — brothers — walking around a restaurant, with chopsticks up their noses and making funny faces.  

“My mom wasn’t so happy,” Stewart said, laughing as he recalled the memory.

That memory of Breeland is Stewart’s favorite, because it illustrates who his older brother was.

“He always had a smile on his face,” Stewart said.

About five years later, Breeland was shot and killed. He was 21 years old.

This October will be the five-year anniversary of his death.

Stewart, now a star running back at York High and a potential NCAA Division I recruit, is dedicating his success on the field and his future in football to his brother.

“Every night, I play for him,” Stewart said.

“He looked over me”

Stewart was still a kid when two rival gang members murdered Breeland.

Breeland’s death preceded Stewart going to high school and making the football team. Breeland never saw his younger brother become one of the best runners in York High history, and he won’t see Stewart’s expected graduation from York High and his looming career as a college football player.

“It was tough,” said Stewart, who was 13 when Breeland died in 2013. “Seeing my mom cry in front of my eyes and my dad break down was tough.”

Their relationship was typical for brothers.

They made jokes. They played video games. They went out to eat.

“We were really close,” Stewart said.

The eight-year age difference, however, made their relationship just as much paternal as it was brotherly.

Living in York City, which can be a dangerous place, Breeland was protective of his younger brother.

“He looked over me,” Stewart said. “He made sure I was doing things right and (stayed) on top of my grades. He made sure I was out of trouble.”

“A new direction”

Before Stewart’s success as a Bearcat, York High football had fallen on hard times earlier this decade.

The Bearcats went 17-44 between 2010-2015, including a winless season in 2015.

Russ Stoner, a former Central York assistant and Spring Grove head coach, was hired in March of 2016 to take over the struggling program.

Stoner’s hiring, Stewart said, was the turning point of his football career.

“It took me in a new direction,” he said.

One of the first things Stoner wanted to do after he was hired was introduce himself to his new players. He went to York High during lunch, sat down with the kids and pulled out his phone.

During his year off from coaching in 2015, Stoner watched the Bearcats and took notes on each player on his iPhone. He started reading off what he had in his Notes app.

“I remember him at (freshman) games wearing a blue jacket in the corner,” Stewart said.

When Stoner got to Stewart’s note, he read: “Potential Division I prospect; doesn’t have to try to score on every play.”

“He was a freak as a freshman,” Stoner says now.

Stewart said that was the first time anyone outside of his family told him he could play major college football.

“Stoner broke it down for me,” Stewart said. “He told me what I had to work on and what he sees in me.”

“The right path”

Stewart buried himself in football after Breeland’s death — and even more so after Stoner was hired in 2016.

As a young kid growing up in York City, Stewart realized he didn’t want to do the wrong things or hang out with the wrong people or head down the wrong path. Football, Stewart said, has allowed him to stay focused.

“Football made me take another direction,” Stewart said. “To not be in the streets, to take school seriously, to stay in sports and to find a way to get out of York, because there’s nothing else here.”

Stoner said the way Stewart has responded after Breeland’s death — as a football player, as a student and as a person — shows “how strong he is.”

“There are several ways you can go, and sometimes it’s not the most positive thing that can happen,” Stoner said. “He stayed on the right path and used (Breeland’s death) as motivation to stay on the right path. What better way is there to honor your family and your brother’s name than to do things the right way?”

“He would be proud”

In his sophomore and junior seasons, Stewart played alongside Khalid Dorsey, who is now seeing playing time at Howard University, an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision school.

In that time, Stewart, who was playing both in the slot and the backfield, said he improved his timing and spacing as a ball carrier. He’s also grown 2 inches and gained more than 20 pounds — now standing 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds.

Stoner, however, said the true reason Stewart is excelling is simply about Stewart’s God-given talent combined with his work ethic.

“Great running backs are born, not made," said Stoner, who was a pretty fair running back in his own right at West York. “But at the end of the day, he’s playing really hard. When you play that way, you have a chance to be a very good football player.”

After a 1-9 inaugural season, Stoner’s Bearcats went 9-2 last season, and they don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. York High is 4-0 this season, outscoring its opponents by 187 points and leading the York-Adams League in several statistical categories.

The main engine for those ridiculous stats is Stewart. The senior running back has already rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season. He broke York High’s single-game rushing record last week with 412 rushing yards to go along with seven touchdowns. His 108 points is more than 13 Y-A League teams have scored all season.

“I couldn’t have imagined this happening a few years ago,” Stewart said. “Our coaching staff is amazing. They put the time and the effort in for us. We trust the process, and it’s really becoming a great program.”

Stewart believes Breeland is helping him on the field. He prays to his older brother before every game, wishing Breeland could still be here to see what he's accomplishing.

When Stewart thinks about the last five years without Breeland — starting high school, playing football, becoming a star running back — he wonders what his big brother would think.

“He would be proud,” Stewart said.

Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at jmeyer@yorkdispatch.com.

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