Oct. 10, 2008
By Phil Landry
Special to GoHolyCross.com
After coming so close to realizing their goals of winning a Patriot League Championship the past two seasons, seniors Kyle Mushaweh and Ryan Stewart are hungry to lead the Crusaders to a title this season. As standouts in their junior years, these players were already leaders on the defensive side of the ball. The team's defense is looking to them again this season for leadership both on and off the field in order to accomplish their championship aspirations.
Growing up in Woodbury, Conn., Mushaweh began playing football in fifth grade. As a high school standout on both sides of the ball, Mushaweh was faced with new challenges entering his freshman year at Holy Cross. "The game is a lot more specific in college, and you have to pay attention more," said Mushaweh. While in high school, his main responsibility was to get to the ball once he knew where it was going. The Crusaders' defense is far more exact. "In college, you just have one job you need to focus on doing," continued Mushaweh. "It is as much of a mental game as it is a physical game."
In his sophomore year, Mushaweh began to show the promise of a talented cover man. He ranked second on the team in tackles after starting the final eight games of the season, the peak of which was a career-high 15 tackle game against Colgate. Entering his junior year as a starting cornerback, Mushaweh accepted his new responsibility as one of the team's leaders. His play certainly demonstrated his role on the team as he led the Patriot League and ranked 29th in the nation with four interceptions.
Mushaweh has already made an immense impact on the Crusaders' defense this season. He followed the contest at Harvard in which he had six tackles and two pass breakups with a stellar game against Georgetown that included three interceptions. Not since 1987 has a Holy Cross player had three interceptions in the same game, and Mushaweh accomplished the feat in the first half. He was named the AT&T Crusader of the Week for his efforts in the victory.
Among his Crusader teammates, the accomplishment did not go unnoticed. As Stewart explains, "He really showed his ability picking off three passes in the first half at Georgetown. That is pretty unheard of."
Stewart illustrated the respect that Mushaweh receives as one of the team's top defensive backs. "He has really come into his own. He is probably the best cover guy we have," continued Stewart. "He has always been one of the fastest guys on the team, always been a great player, and has always played hard." Mushaweh's hard work has paid off over a career in which he has totaled seven interceptions, 13 pass breakups and 132 total tackles.
Mushaweh also brings his talent to the special teams squad. As a starting cornerback, it is rare to also play special teams. However, as Stewart explained, Mushaweh's desire to help out the team in any way possible overcomes the norm. "A lot of starters do not like to play special teams, but he has been on kickoffs all four years which is pretty impressive. It is a testament to the kind of player he is."
Stewart has had a different experience during the Crusaders' young season. After injuring his knee in training camp, he has been forced to sit out for the past six weeks. "The recovery process has been frustrating, especially losing the first few games. It was really tough to sit there and watch," said Stewart. "But my backup Andrew Cialano has really stepped up."
The Crusaders as a team have also been frustrated with Stewart's injury. The team has been without the linebacker who has had an already impressive career at Holy Cross. Stewart played in nine games as a freshman, and seven contests as a sophomore. It was in his junior year that the 6-2, 228-pound Stewart became a force on defense. He amassed 50 solo tackles and 65 total tackles, enough to rank second on the team as a 10-game starter.
The Wayland, Mass., native is seen as calm by his teammates off the field, but as an intense and intelligent player on it. "He's a relaxed kid, but on the field he has a totally different personality as a very physical guy," said Mushaweh. "He is a much better player than he would let on. He works hard watching film and basically runs the whole defense."
Having been sidelined for over a month, Stewart is excited to return to the field. "I am just trying to get healthy and get back out there and help my team win," he said. Mushaweh emphasized that the team is also eager to see their starting linebacker back on the field. "Getting him back should help a lot. Cialano has done a good job so I think it will benefit both of them," continued Mushaweh. "If something happens they can rotate which helps the whole linebacking corps better."
Stewart's knee injury is not all he has had to overcome during his Holy Cross career. He has been faced with the challenge of different standards than high school both on and off the field. "The days are a lot longer; you have the Holy Cross workload on top of meetings and practices. It is a big adjustment, the game is a lot more mental, physical and faster. You have to keep up mentally to do well," said Stewart.
Both Stewart and Mushaweh are hopeful that the team's hard work over the summer and the unity they have created will translate to wins on the football field. "There has been great chemistry so far. We had about 55 guys here this summer which has really set the tone throughout camp and the first couple of weeks," said Stewart.
Despite three difficult losses, the Crusaders are still extremely confident as they move deeper into their Patriot League schedule. "The games we lost were pretty hard but we learned a lot of important lessons and we are looking to build from that," said Mushaweh. "We made a lot of adjustments that will help us out in the league games."
The team's goals coincide with the goals of these two senior leaders. The standouts would like nothing more than to hoist the Patriot League Championship trophy at the end of the season. "We have been a couple points away the past few of years," said Stewart. "But now we can taste it, and we are almost there."
This story originally appeared in the October 11 edition of the Holy Cross Gameday program, for the contest between the Crusaders and Brown. To order a copy of the program, click here.