While he’s now a midfielder on the Varsity Blues men’s soccer team, Russell Stewart’s soccer journey started at the young age of four, as an avid Lionel Messi admirer. Yet, he was also following in the footsteps of his father — a semi-professional soccer player in Jamaica. With both these role models, Stewart fell in love with the beautiful game. 

Stewart, who learned soccer while playing alongside his brother, is now a third-year kinesiology major, an ambitious and hardworking Varsity athlete, and a dedicated team player.

The 2023 season

During the vigorous 12-game and six-week-long Ontario University Athletics season, Stewart and the rest of the team strive to deliver their best performances on the field. This past season, the team has had each other’s backs, even in the most challenging times. 

Undoubtedly, essential games may keep them on the edge, but Stewart informed us how the team calms their nerves. “There’s always music playing on our speakers, just to get the energy up — good vibes,” Stewart said. After a home win, the team goes to celebrate at the pub, Duke of York, as they did after a win against the Trent University Excalibur on September 24, 2023. 

Stewart stepped up for the team in that game, since the team’s usual captain and assistant captains were out injured. “Before the game, the coach came up to me and said that I’d be the captain for that game,” Stewart said. “So before the game, I knew it was going to be an important game for me.” 

He displayed his remarkable performance when the team won the game 3–1, scoring two of the Blues’ goals. Nevertheless, Stewart believes “it wasn’t really much of an individual effort.” The assist from forward Andrea Schifano for his first goal and the defense and tackling from forwards Kingsley Belele and Michael Maslanka for his second goal contributed to Stewart’s success. 

While the previous season for the Blues ended at the second round of playoffs, Stewart and the rest of the team are working toward one collective goal for the next season: making it further to reach the nationals hosted in Oshawa this year. Moreover, Stewart looks forward to achieving this with the returning players and new promising recruits. 

Stewart celebrates the big win with Blues defender, Patrik Geleziunas. COURTESY OF NEIL PATEL CC VARSITY BLUES MEDIA

Personal growth

Stewart shared the key to his constant growth in the game. “I think what really helped was the offseason… [training] with our coaches. They really helped build [up] different little things that [are] very hard to build in the season.” Training thrice a week, accompanied by his participation in exhibition games, has helped him build mobility, strength, and speed — skills that are all essential for soccer. 

However, this offseason training not only helps develop his physical skills but also his cognitive abilities, particularly his agile decision-making skills, which are essential for a midfielder who needs to assist his team defensively and offensively. 

Additionally, in a game like soccer, which revolves around players tackling one another to assert dominance over the ball, the threat of an injury during the season is a constant. Thus, his focus on gym training allows him to stay healthy and work on injury prevention. 

Stewart prepares to launch a free-kick towards one of his teammates. COURTESY OF SEYRAN MAMMADOV CC VARSITY BLUES MEDIA

Life outside soccer

When he is not playing soccer or training in the gym, Stewart can be found studying in the blue and white room, in Robarts Library, or if he feels more social, in the Clara Benson building. “[It’s good to] lounge there sometimes. It’s more of a social spot but when there aren’t as many people it should be a really great place to study,” he said. For food, Stewart recommends grabbing the bagel breakfast sandwich at the Exchange Cafe, which he recently discovered. A few other spots on Stewart’s go-to list are Scotty Bons and Jerk King on Spadina-Bloor. 

Balancing his academic work while being an athlete has its challenges. However, Stewart overcomes them gracefully, saying the key for him is time management. On away games, their travel days start with a morning training session, lunch, travelling together on the bus, and a team meeting. With a hectic schedule like this, Stewart said he manages to get work done by “finding those little times where you have like an hour or two between meetings or travel.” Despite everything, his attention on game days is always locked only on soccer. 

Nevertheless, soccer remains a key goal for Stewart in the future. Addressing his future endeavours, Stewart hopes to get drafted in the Canadian Premier League-U SPORTS draft. With his mindset and skill set on and off the pitch, it certainly seems like a possibility.