Note: The following appears in the Virginia gameday football program.
For offensive lineman Cade Stewart, Clemson is home. It always has been. Now in his fifth year as a Tiger, the Six Mile, S.C. native has spent 22 years within 15 minutes of Death Valley, and he would not have it any other way.
After grappling with the urge to branch away from his hometown to attend college, Stewart said he sealed the deal with the Tigers after his official visit to Clemson and his family’s prayer at a Sunday dinner.
“In the prayer, they said, ‘God, please let Cade go to Clemson’,” recalled Stewart. “It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, and I’m thankful that prayer was said that day.”
His family has been tied to Clemson for decades. His father grew up in nearby Six Mile, and his mother, whom he labeled as the “athlete of the family,” was a star volleyball player for the Tigers. The Stewarts never miss a home game or the chance to host a tailgate, and John Simpson’s family used to join them.
“They would always cook an absurd amount of food,” said Stewart. “One of my favorite memories is coming over to their spot after games with John and having ribs, chicken and whatever you could think of for us to eat.”
While his family’s gameday festivities look different this season, Stewart has still felt their excitement and support, and he has still been able to enjoy their cooking.
“One of my favorite things about being close to home is the home-cooked meals. I’m a big fan of cube steak with rice and gravy, and my mom makes a dish called ‘bow ties’ with Italian sausage. Sneaking away on a Sunday evening and getting one of those…man oh man, that is great.”
As a graduate of Daniel High School, where many future Tigers have played before and after him, Stewart’s transition into the culture of Clemson football was natural, as the two football programs possess similar values.
This year, with Stewart’s role as the starting center, he is taking advantage of his well-established familiarity with Clemson’s system to lead the offensive line. Stewart viewed the time of limited campus activity at the start of the fall semester as an opportunity to concentrate on his role within the team and grow together.
“We were able to be more focused and build our chemistry as an offensive line. There are five guys who have to communicate and work as one, and we had the time to learn things about each other off the field that may even carry over onto the field.”
One of the most experienced players on Clemson’s roster, Stewart is comfortable in his leadership role beyond the offensive line as well. He emphasized the importance of maintaining a productive routine for younger players, especially with the irregularity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s through little things, like being on time for coronavirus tests and waking up early to get your schoolwork done before practice without always having those set class times. We’ve been trying to instill a sense of structure for the young guys.”
As for Stewart, he has the school regimen down pat. He is currently working on his master’s degree after graduating with his bachelor’s degree in construction science & management in May. Last year, he interned with a real estate firm, but Stewart is even more interested in the production side of real estate.
“My grandfather was in construction, and my dad and his brothers have worked in construction all my life. I remember in the sixth grade when they ask you what your career goal is, I wrote down construction. I’ve had the same dream since I was a little kid.”
Stewart hopes to become a general contractor and eventually open his own business somewhere in the Southeast with the knowledge gained from his internship as another tool in his belt. Before he transitions into the professional world, Stewart is focusing on enjoying his last season and taking in every moment with his teammates.
“At the end of the day, you won’t remember the score…you’ll remember your teammates. So I want to soak in these memories as much as I can, hang out with the guys and be a good role model. You think of five years ago as a long time, but it really seems like just yesterday I was a freshman.”
The teammates who came into the program with Stewart in 2016 are still some of his closest friends. Because the group is a mix of offensive and defensive players, competition still heats up between them in practice.
“I think it helps us that we can mess with each other a little bit out there, but we know when we’re done, we’re still the best of friends.”
Stewart also has a friendly competition with defensive end Regan Upshaw over who is the best fisherman on the team, so he spends much of his free time catching catfish in Lake Hartwell to earn that title.
Like his friendships with teammates, Stewart’s relationships with his coaches, especially Offensive Line Coach Robbie Caldwell, have left lasting impressions on him.
“Coach Caldwell has been the most influential coach for me. He’s extremely caring and an all-around great coach. He’s a country boy like me, so we love to talk about fishing. I grew up with men just like him, so he’s like a father figure to me and reminds me so much of my family.”
With a few more months playing football where he grew up, Stewart is grateful for every minute.
“I’m just happy to be a Tiger and give it my best five years possible.”