For years, Yorktown High School sports fans muddled through without the pride—enjoyed by graduates of rivals Wakefield and Washington-Liberty–of having placed an alumnus in the National Football League.
That misery ended in 2018, when M.J. Stewart, following a four-year career as a defensive back for the University of North Carolina, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After a stop in Cleveland, Stewart is now hitting his stride on national television as a safety and special teams player with the Houston Texans. In a phone interview just before he improved his stats against the Washington Commanders Nov. 20, the former Halls Hill resident said he thinks of his Arlington roots while feeling blessed at his good fortune.
“Football is a game I’ve been playing since I was little,” he said when asked about the professional-level pressures. “It’s a lot of fun.” His parents travel often from Arlington to see him play, and he visits home a couple of times yearly.
I watched Stewart scamper as a running back at Yorktown, where in his senior year he rushed for 1,800 yards and scored 32 touchdowns during the 2013 team’s 10-0 season. How was it playing for local-legend coach Bruce Hanson? “That’s my dog [friend],” he enthused. “Every day he inspired me and was the same person every day. He’d yell at practice and get you all fired up. I’m proud to say I was coached by him.”
I met the athlete last May when we inducted him into the Yorktown High School Hall of Fame and Inspiration. He corrected my guess that NFL rookies were subjected to locker-room hazing. “Everyone’s cool,” he said. I wanted to know why he switched from running back to defense. “I had a few offers to play college as a running back,” Stewart said, naming Wake Forest and James Madison University. But “I’d rather be the hammer and not the nail.”
And he is. At North Carolina, he became the Tar Heels’ all-time leader in pass breakups with 41. In two seasons with Tampa Bay, he recorded 68 tackles. With the Browns, in 13 games in 2021 he made 34 solo tackles and assisted in 13: in 2020 he had three interceptions.
The move to Houston this spring (a one-year $3 million contract) left Stewart with a sense that “every city has its own thing, with different coaches and styles. The Texans are a great organization to be part of.”
Against the Commanders, No. 29 Stewart tackled Antonio Gibson on the opening kickoff and blocked on a punt return. He tackled Curtis Samuel, and added two more solos and an assist. “I get a good lot of snaps,” he says of his rotating into games, strategy for which depends on the opponent. On Nov. 27, he delivered three solo tackles and a fumble recovery in a loss to the Miami Dolphins. (The Texans this year are 1-9-1.)
Long-term plans? “The Lord has blessed me with playing a wonderful game since I was a kid,” Stewart replied. “I hope to play as long as I can. I’m just living in the present moment.”
Arlington stalwart Al Eisenberg, a county board member, Clinton administration Transportation official, and state delegate, died Nov. 15 at 76 after a decade in assisted living. He suffered cognitive decline.
Colleagues recalled the New Jersey native’s Arlington board service (1983-1999) as a model for progressive, knowledgeable but transparent advocacy for affordable housing.
I once visited Eisenberg and his wife, Democratic activist Sharon Davis, at their vintage Lyon Park home, where they displayed his astonishing collection of Civil War artifacts.
If you chance behind the Powhatan Springs Skate Park on Wilson Blvd., you’ll behold an odd circle of cement. It was designed as a rock garden for children’s education two decades ago, using $75,000 donated by the Kiwanis Club.
But today it’s in disrepair and resembles an empty zoo’s lion’s den, as one wag put it.
Good news is the Parks and Recreation Department is aware. It “will refresh the garden by cutting back nearby vegetation to increase visibility, improve the soil, increase irrigation and trial some hardy native plants with input from our landscape team,” said spokeswoman Martha Holland. “Vegetation has already been cut back and irrigation tested. Over the fall/winter, park maintenance staff will evaluate potential soil improvements and plant selections to place new landscaping by spring.”