Star running back’s point: Walk with integrity

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart, who grew up in Lacey, will share with high school graduates the importance of making right decisions.

The running back who set rushing records at Timberline High School and at the University of Oregon will speak at a Community Baccalaureate Celebration at 3 p.m. today at New Life Baptist Church in Lacey.

“I’m going to encourage them to continue their walk with integrity,” Stewart said. “I’ll talk about their walk with integrity and about how important it is to stick with their morals and beliefs as they go into the next phase of their lives.”

At least that was Stewart’s tentative plan.

“But when Sunday rolls around, who knows what God is going to put on my heart,” Stewart said.

Cecil Daniels, youth pastor at New Life Baptist and Stewart’s friend, asked Stewart if he’d speak at the baccalaureate. Daniels was Stewart’s youth pastor.

“When he asked me, it was an immediate yes,” Stewart said. “I had an opportunity to reach out to kids. An opportunity to grow in the direction God wants me to grow. I just had to make sure it didn’t conflict with my workouts.”

Stewart rushed for 836 yards his rookie season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He and DeAngelo Williams made an impressive one-two punch in Carolina’s backfield, combining for more than 2,300 yards rushing and 28 rushing touchdowns. With Williams and Stewart switching off, the Panthers finish 12-4.

“For me, it was a good first year,” Stewart said. “The problems with my Achilles’ heel limited me a little. But that’s all settled. But it was an awesome experience to be on a team full of talent like that and to have a season that we did. Me and DeAngelo got off on the right foot. It was a good experience.”

Four years ago, when Stewart graduated from Timberline, he was in the same point in life as the high school seniors he’ll speak to.

“I am amazed what’s happened to me since then,” Stewart said. “But at the same time I knew that God had this plan for me. This is just the beginning.”

Stewart lives in the offseason in Carolina to train with his teammates. He flew late Friday night to Washington to spend the weekend in Lacey.

Carolina’s next minicamp begins May 27.

Gail Wood: 360-754-5443