Posted Online: Jan. 09, 2013, 7:27 pm

Attitude adjustment carries UT's Steward

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By Daniel Makarewicz,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
United Township junior wrestler Jeronnie Steward is this week's Metro Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Steward won the 113-pound title at the Morton Invitational and his Western Big 6 Conference opening bout.
Jeronnie Steward's physical metamorphosis within the last year is noticeable, but those within the United Township wrestling program do not label that as his biggest improvement.

A different attitude trumps everything.

Taking the mat with an altered mindset has changed Steward, a 113-pound junior, for the better. Armed with renewed confidence and belief that no one can touch him, Steward has taken his wrestling to the next level.

"I'm trying to get mentally ready," said Steward, this week's Metro Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. "Wrestling is not really a physical sport -- it's more mental. If you can get over that, you can do big things."

So far, Steward is living those words.

Success is not new for him, but UT coach Lambros Fotos calls Steward's attitude adjustment the biggest difference for him this year. Because of that, he carries a 23-1 record after rolling to the Morton Invitational 113-pound title last Saturday.

On his way to the championship, Steward earned a first-period fall and technical fall before scoring a 13-2 major decision in the final.

"If there's a challenge, he has it set in his head he's going to rise above that challenge," Fotos said. "He's starting to set forth challenges in front of him to make small gains that are making him tough, making him better."

Two challenges have put Steward in this position.

After last season ended, Fotos talked to his returning wrestlers about using the offseason to improve. Fotos noticed Steward took the conversation to heart, saying "he was one who jumped in with both feet."

Steward worked on his technique, conditioning and strength to make sure his junior year would end at the state tournament.

As soon as this season started, he then challenged himself to hold nothing back. That continued the attitude adjustment those inside the UT wrestling room have noticed.

"I'm opening up a lot," Steward said. "At the beginning of the year, all I did was go to front headlocks and go from there. Then I started opening up and taking more shots."

What followed was winning 23 of 24 matches and garnering a No. 4 ranking in the latest Illinois Best Weekly Class 2A poll.

"If he has a tough kid right now, his eyes light up," Fotos said. "He's going out there and wants to prove himself. Whenever you see a wrestler wanting to rise up, it gets you excited."

The belief is there that Steward can handle any opponent and any match.

"You've got to have that mentality," Steward said. "That's all I do -- think of ways to win."

Better at riding, on his feet and on top, the wrestling IQ puts him in a position to have success. The mental part is sharp, too.

"He keeps improving and improving," Fotos said.

The next challenge is taking it to another level.

Last season ended in the sectionals, a tough-to-swallow conclusion because of a his regular-season success. With that ending behind him, Steward has done everything he can to succeed in February.

Now comes the time to start thinking big.

"He has the potential to be on the podium and bring a state medal," said Fotos, whose 2002 Class AA 145-pound state title is the program's last medal. "The thing that will carry him over is his drive."

And his attitude.

So far, so good.

"I'm reaching that podium," Steward said. "I know I can."

Favorite food: Tacos
Favorite movie: "John Q"
Favorite class: Physical eduation with Mr. Harding
Favorite team: Chicago Bears
Favorite athlete: Devin Hester
Parents: Nate Owens, East Moline, and Monica Williamson, East Moline
In the running
Isabelle Anderson, Alleman: Scored 15 points in the Pioneers' 64-33 win over Davenport West in the Dearrel Bates Shootout.
Molly DeBrock, Geneseo: Tallied 10 points and five steals as the Maple Leafs carded a 48-36 Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference win at LaSalle-Peru.
Brandon Vice, Moline: Game-high 10 points and five rebounds as Moline earned a 47-30 win at Freeport.
Shavonne Brewer, Rock Island: In a 75-70 win over top-ranked Davenport Assumption at the Dearrel Bates Shooting, she scored a game-high 26 points.
B.J. McGhee, Rock Island: Won the 120-pound title at the Sycamore Invitational.
Brian Richardson, Rock Island: Hit all nine shot attempts and all three fouls shots as part of a 21-point performance in the Rocks' 86-32 win over Sterling.
Tayler Dobrinske, United Township: Led the way with 12 points in the Panthers' 35-26 Western Big 6 Conference win over Moline.