It took a second to sink in.
Carl Stewart turned in a performance for the ages at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last weekend. The former Auburn University fullback, a Maryville High School product, finished first among running backs in three statistical categories used to evaluate college seniors at the invitation-only gathering.
Stewart’s 39-inch vertical jump and 11-foot, 2-inch broad jump are both impressive numbers, but it’s the 30 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press that knocked Caleb Gregory for a loop.
“So, basically, he benched pressed himself,” Gregory said, “30 times.”
Stewart and Gregory were wrestling teammates at Maryville before the former began to focus on football as a sophomore. Tuesday, Gregory, now employed at Cherokee Athletic Facility, looked on as Stewart went through a light workout in advance of next month’s Pro Day evaluation by NFL coaching scouts at Auburn.
The combine showing was satisfying, Stewart said.
“I was just happy because it was a lot work that’s paying off,” he said.
Considering the magnitude of Stewart’s performance, the pay off may be only the beginning, said Chip Smith, founder of Atlanta-based Competitive Edge Sports.
“Oh, my God!” Smith said. “He was unbelievable. I talked to two (NFL) coaches that were there, and they said, ‘Your boy Carl Stewart tore it up.’”
Smith began working Stewart six weeks prior to the combine. The renowned strength guru has a long and storied list of NFL clients, Chicago’s Brian Urlacher and Denver’s Champ Bailey among the most notable. A whopping 800 players he’s worked with have signed professional contracts. Thirty of his clients have reached the NFL Pro Bowl.
Much of what Stewart displayed in Indianapolis was already there when they began working together, Smith said.
“I knew he was a good athlete,” he said. “You could just look at him. He’s a specimen.
“From the first day I worked with him, he was explosive. I was shocked he was a fullback.”
Stewart helped Maryville to three consecutive state championships before signing with Auburn in 2002. He would earn Mr. Football honors along the way. Still, while a powerful runner, Stewart wasn’t exactly a bruiser in high school.
“I can still remember my last weigh in at Maryville,” he said. “I was 190 (pounds).”
At the combine, a mature and much more chiseled Stewart stood in at 6-foot-2, 230, and he was healthy.
Used primarily as a blocking back for premier Tiger runners like Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, Stewart said he didn’t carry the ball as much as he would have liked during his days on the plains.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting, to be honest,” he said, “but it turned out for the best.”
Stewart proved himself invaluable to the War Eagles not only as a blocker and short-yardage specialist but as a receiver as well. He didn’t get the carries, but he didn’t leave the college game with nagging injuries, either.
NFL general managers take notice of such things, said Kevin Robinson, Stewart’s agent with Ascent Sports Management of Boulder, Colo.
“It’s one of those things if a guy doesn’t get beat up in college, his durability could be longer in the pros,” Robinson said.
Like Smith, Robinson was blown away by Stewart’s showing at the combine.
“He performed on a big stage,” he said. “That’s huge! That’s the NFL.”
Taking place over four days, the combine encompasses a great deal more than jumps, bench presses and 40-yard dashes. During the weeklong extravaganza, the better than 300 invitees are subject to drug testing, extensive physicals, psychological testing, formal and informal interviews and exacting height and weight testing.
Much of the first two days are chock full of the psychological testing and physicals, Stewart said.
“They go over all your injuries from Pop Warner (youth football) through college,” he said. “They look at everything. They measure how wide it is across your fingers, how long your arms are.”
Injuries incurred during a player’s career — or discovered during the combine exam — receive extensive scrutiny, requiring athletes to be sent to a local hospital for another look.
Again, Stewart’s Auburn career proved a plus.
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“I was one of the few guys that didn’t have to go get the second opinion at the hospital,” he said.
Fans often overlook the interview portion of the combine, Robinson said, something Stewart, who received his degree in political science from Auburn in 2006, aced.
“He comes from a great family,” Robinson said, “and he’s a very articulate young man. He’s going to interview well. He’s the kind of guy you want in your locker room.”
Things like the bench press still matter, though, with Stewart perhaps more so than most.
Former BYU defensive lineman Scott Young holds the combine record for the bench press with 43 repetitions. Stewart’s display, though, was different.
“The other thing about Carl is his arms are so long,” Robinson said. “He has 34 inch arms. That’s an offensive tackle. That’s absolutely phenomenal.”
It’s also rare.
“The shorter your arms, the shorter the distance you have to extend them to push that bench up,” Smith said. “He’s got to be more explosive and stronger through a longer range of motion than a shorter guy. He’s extremely strong for someone his size.”
If there was a downside to his stay in Indianapolis, it was his speed in the 40-yard dash, Stewart said. The running portion of the event took place on the final day following the lifting and jumping evolutions. Fatigued, the former Rebel covered the distance in 4.62 seconds. His personal best for the dash is 4.53.
Stewart said he hopes to lower that number at next month’s pro day.
“He’s going to be better at Auburn,” Robinson said.
The lift and jumps, Stewart won’t retest. Smith said Stewart’s broad jump ranks only behind Bailey’s 11-6 as the best client he’s ever prepared for the combine.
“When you’ve had the workout he’s had, you don’t want to do those things again,” Smith said. “You stand on those numbers. I told him, ‘You’ve already jumped out the house. You’ve lifted the house.’”
Most mock draft boards currently have Stewart, rated as high as the fourth-best fullback in this year’s draft, as a seventh round selection, but many of those assessments were processed prior to the combine.
“I hope somebody sees that potential and says, ‘We can’t pass on this kid’ and takes him quicker than they normally would,” Smith said.