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Ex-York High standout, more focused and a 'better man' after a postgrad year, joins IUP

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
  • Dayjure Stewart will play football at IUP next season.
  • He spent the 2019 season at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.
  • IUP has produced 31 100-yard performances in games since 2015.
  • As a senior at York High in 2018, Stewart rushed for more than 3,000 yards.
York High's Dayjure Stewart breaks a  Red Lion tackle and runs 73 yards for a touchdown, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 John A. Pavoncello

In 2018, Dayjure Stewart was dominant. 

The York High grad rewrote the York-Adams League record book with a single-season rushing total just north of 3,000 yards, including 40 touchdowns. That earned him offers from NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision schools during his senior season. 

The 2019 year made the standout running back realize he still had a lot to learn, on and off the field. 

Stewart committed to play at D-I FCS Illinois State in January 2019, but didn’t qualify to be admitted to the school after high school graduation. 

So, Stewart took a postgraduate year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. The program has produced a number of NFL draft picks, including Michael Thomas, the star wideout for the New Orleans Saints. 

Former York High running back Dayjure Stewart, front right, tries to avoid tacklers while playing for Fork Union Military Academy in 2019. Stewart recently committed to play for the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

After spending the second half of 2019 in Virginia, Stewart emerged a more focused person. With a new mentality, the 6-foot, 200-pound running back signed with D-II Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) recently, and is proud of the journey he took to get there.

“It was a bummer, but I think everything happens for a reason,” Stewart said. “I felt like I became a better man by myself and, now that I’m in college, it really prepared me. I think I have a better opportunity now with IUP.” 

IUP’s second chance: The Crimson Hawks weren’t a new school to Stewart. IUP’s coaches had been on him while he was at York High, but weren’t sure they really had a shot at him because of the D-I interest he received. 

Jim Smith, IUP’s defensive coordinator and academic coordinator who covers recruiting for the York area as a Dover High grad, wanted Stewart to join the Crimson Hawks after high school, but didn’t hesitate when the opportunity to recruit him again presented itself.

“I knew realistically, it might be a long shot,” Smith said. “We knew he was a definite prospect, but he had some (offers) come up that were bigger and better, so I just tracked him. To have a second chance at him and know he was like our top guy on the board last year, this even worked out better.”

Smith and IUP assistant head coach, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Luke Barker stayed in touch with Stewart while he was at Fork Union and continued to build a relationship with him. 

Since Barker joined the Crimson Hawks’ staff in 2015, the team has enjoyed 31 games with a running back rushing for more than 100 yards in a game. Barker liked the improvement he saw in Stewart’s game, but it was the mentality Stewart had that impressed him most.

“He just seemed more mature. He seemed like he needed a little reality check,” Barker said. “I think that helped him and got him in the right mindset.” 

While it wasn’t part of his original plan, Stewart used the postgraduate year to develop that mentality that impressed the IUP coaches and others around the country.

“I was really focused on school and had no distractions,” Stewart said. “I was really just working every day and perfecting my craft and learning the game of football while learning new things every day academically.”

Stewart will join a strong D-II program at IUP, which finished 10-2 in 2019 and qualified for the NCAA playoffs.

No D-II dilemma: In addition to IUP, Stewart said he had interest from D-II schools such as Shippensburg and East Stroudsburg, and received preferred walk-on offers from D-I schools such as Minnesota, Pitt and East Carolina. 

Stewart admitted the lure of playing college football in a Power Five conference was there, but when he weighed his options and considered playing time and the financial factors, the choice was easy.

“It wasn’t tough,” Stewart said. “Every kid’s dream is to play Division I football at the Clemsons and Alabamas. It was kind of hard, but I had to think, reality-wise, what’s the best fit for me?”

When he answered that question, the only option for Stewart was IUP. On the ride home from his visit to the campus in December, Stewart and his family decided it was the school for him. 

He called Barker on Christmas morning to deliver the good news and give the Crimson Hawks’ staff an early present on the holiday.

Built a bond: After going through the recruiting process for the second time, Stewart’s deciding factor was the relationships he built with the IUP coaches over the past two years. Barker and Smith were in contact with him from the start and he valued their unwavering interest and belief in him.

“The fact that they were still there,” Stewart said. “They were there from the get go. They were on me every day, having conversations and building a bond with me.” 

Through all the humbling lessons learned along the way, Stewart remained focused on his goal. The path took a different direction than he envisioned, but ended at the place he feels is right.

Given the circumstances, he could have quit. Many others, in similar scenarios, have done just that. Instead, he pushed forward with the strength that makes him a great running back. Now, he can enjoy the results of his hard work and perseverance as the next stage of his career begins.

“It makes me feel proud that I didn’t give up and I kept striving to my goal,” Stewart said. “I really love the game of football and that’s why I do it and that’s what kept pushing me.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.