Alabama has a proud tradition of powerful backs and a punishing run game. So when ArDarius Stewart gets referred to as a running back, it’s something the junior receiver takes great honor in, even if the only handoffs he gets come on jet sweeps.
Stewart received the label from sophomore wideout Calvin Ridley, who started calling Stewart a running back after watching him run during practice. At 6-foot-1, 204 pounds, it isn’t that Stewart necessarily looks like a running back, he just plays like one.
“When he gets the ball he runs so hard, he just runs guys over and stuff,” Ridley said. “I just said to myself, ‘Gosh, he looks like a running back.’ He’s pretty physical.”
It’s rare one defender brings down ArDarius Stewart on a play. Last season, Stewart racked up 700 receiving yards on 63 receptions. Many of those yards were earned after the catch, as Stewart bulldozed his way over opposing defenders.
“That’s how I was raised,” Stewart said. “You have to hit them before they hit you. If I’m going to be hurting, when I’m hurting I want them to be hurting more than me.”
Known as the Tide’s best blocking receiver, Stewart is even deadlier when the ball isn’t in his hands. The junior unleashed his fair share of punishing blows last season, including a thundering crack block on Arkansas linebacker Brooks Ellis during last year’s game against the Razorbacks.
On that play, former Alabama running back Kenyan Drake caught a short screen pass over the middle and was sprung free for extra yardage as Stewart laid out an unsuspecting Ellis, decleating the linebacker on the play.
“I just want him to feel it more than I do,” Stewart said of his opposition. “I have to bring it or they’re going to give it to me.”
Alabama defenders bare the burden of going up against Stewart every day in practice. After a few rounds with the fiery receiver, teammates are just thankful they have Stewart on their side come Saturdays.
“He’s probably the most physical receiver I go up against all season,” said sophomore cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. “That’s why in games it’s not really a problem when I go against big, physical receivers and even tight ends at time because we have receivers like him that come in every play and try to head-butt you and get his hands on you. Going against him just gets me better.”
This year, Stewart has hit opposing defenses equally hard on the stat sheet. The junior leads the Tide in receiving with 203 yards and three touchdowns through two games. With Stewart lining up on the opposite side of an equally talented Ridley, it generally prevents opposing secondaries from double-teaming either receiver. That oftentimes creates a nightmare scenario for defenses.
“It's very difficult (to defend),” said senior safety Eddie Jackson. “We don't just have two. We have a couple. Robert Foster, Cam Sims, Trevon Diggs. Guys like that, they come out and compete.”
Heading into Saturday’s game at No. 19 Ole Miss, Stewart figures to be a big part of No. 1 Alabama’s plans on offense. In last season’s game against the Rebels, Stewart led all Tide receivers, hauling in eight catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.
“They’re pretty fast, they’re physical,” Stewart said of Ole Miss’ defenders. “All of those guys are great. We still have to come out, we’re going to have to play physical as well.”
Stewart wouldn’t have it any other way.