Kendrick Stewart had graduated from Florida State a decade ago and was seeking a career, something more than just a job.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do,” Stewart recalled. “I was at Lakeland Toyota. I was there for a week, selling cars. I sold two cars but I just figured it wasn’t for me. I got into the school system and started substitute teaching. I was on campus, saw the kids, was able to help with academics and athletics. It was like a light bulb went off.”
Stewart was soon very busy – a substitute teacher who was also helping to coach football, basketball and track. In about a year, he was teaching physical education at a Lakeland elementary school and coaching. Since 2013, he has been coaching at Lakeland Christian, first as an assistant coach and now is about to begin his fourth season as head coach.
The Osceola talked with Stewart about his journey in coaching, the fourth part of our Seminoles on the sidelines series.
It sounds like coaching really wasn’t the plan for you but once you got involved you were hooked, right?
Being around my alma mater was fulfilling. I didn’t know it was going to take off like this. I knew I wanted to help people and help the community but this fed right into what I wanted to do. It was a blessing by God to get back into substitute teaching and coaching. It went on from there. I was able to relate with them really well. Being able to guide and mold those young men to get to that level, it was a great connection.
Is that your ‘why,’ that connection and ability to mentor boys in football and life?
It’s seeing how they grow into men has been a big transition for me and building a relationship with guys. The football aspect is good but what makes them great is building better husbands and fathers. Teaching them different things, how to change a tire, how to tie a tie. It’s been really fulfilling for me.
How much did FSU coaches have an influence on you and shape you as a coach?
Mainly coach (Bobby) Bowden and Odell (Haggins). It was building a relationship with guys on and off the field. When I have a relationship with a guy off the field, I can see what makes him go on the field as well. Just having that spiritual piece, that was really big for coach Bowden. I have done that as well. Having the kids go to student church, having the kids go to church together. Those are some key things. Odell was really big on using hands, so me coaching defensive line I pretty much mimic a lot of the things that he tells us. ‘Hands are our weapons.’ Just different drills, how he would interact with us to get the best out of us. There are countless things that they’ve said that I use and put my own spin on it, depending on what kid it is. Every kid is not the same. You have to spend that time and build a relationship with a kid to learn what makes him go.
What impact did FSU have on your life?
It was a great experience. Just having a variety of people. Coach Bowden taking us to a predominantly black church, a predominantly white church. It just made me a well-rounded person and then the coaches, they always showed love and tried to make sure they were molding men as well. That’s where I get a lot of my coaching styles from. Florida State played a huge role in shaping the men I am today with the variety of coaches that we had. And being a part of a team each year, different kids, different personalities and being able to gel together was a cool thing.
How gratifying is it that you are making them better people?
That’s really fulfilling for me. Also being at Victory Christian they get to see me in a different light. We can pray together. We can ask hard questions. That’s really been a highlight for me. Kids open up to you. Seeing their faces light up. Knowing that I’m helping our future leaders, they could be president one day, they could be doctors one day. Just helping mold them into men is where I get my gratification. It’s not going into the league (NFL), that is icing on the cake. There’s more to football than that.
What do you want your players to say about you 20 years from now?
I want them to know that I’m a godly man. I put Jesus over everything. I want to make sure that they know I am putting him first. Secondly, it’s just that coach really cared and I listened to their different problems. Everybody’s household is different. Just that I was fair and cared for each individual, not just football X’s and O’s.