EDITOR’S NOTE: Throughout the 2011 NFL season, Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart, the team’s leading rusher the past two years, will be blogging about The NFL Life for Made Man. With the assistance of contributor Ashley Jude Collie, he’ll reveal what goes on behind the scenes, both on and off the field. Just days before his team’s opening game at Arizona, here’s his first post.

 

Welcome.

First thing I have to say after this offseason lockout is, I am so ready to play some football! This offseason was totally different. The lockout didn’t allow us to be around our teammates, preparing as usual. It’s been a time of mental focus, going back to your roots to find that inner desire that pushed you when you were in high school, when you didn’t have anyone to say, get up and go work out and do this regimen. It was all on you. There’s a lot of commitment that goes into any off-season but even more this year. So you had to make these things happen and stay competitive so you’d have your job when you came back. We went through the blood, sweat and soreness on our own. It was a reminder what it means to play this game, a game that I love.

Our team goal is to grow and be better than last year, when we were 2-14 and couldn’t put it together. We went through enough growing pains and now we feel like it’s a fresh start with new coaches and a good mix of rookies and veteran players. Our approach is realistic and it’s about taking it one step at a time. However, every year my ultimate goal is to play in that last game of the year—the Super Bowl!

I’m real excited for this season, because I’m healthier than ever before. Even though I have three NFL seasons under my belt, I haven’t felt totally healthy until now. Also, I’m excited to see our new QB, Heisman winner Cam Newton, show off his skills. He’s taking to the role of being an NFL quarterback which means being a leader, and he’s shown that he’s ready to step up and take on those responsibilities. We live in the same housing complex in Charlotte, so we’ve been hanging out off the field, building some rapport. We’ve also got this other thing going on—he went to Auburn and I went to Oregon (GO DUCKS!) and unfortunately they beat us in the BCS Championship last season. There’s a lot of competitive give and take going on, to say the least!

People have been asking me what it’s like on Sunday, heading out for the Panthers’ opener. When you come out of the locker room, you’re focused and trying to stay within yourself and not get too hyped. But as you walk through that tunnel, hearing the crowd, the music, it starts becoming surreal. I’ve never seen anybody throw up, but I bet some guys want to because your nerves start rattling. The fans start getting louder as you enter the stadium, and then the cameras and lights are going off. Boom!

It’s a feeling of being almost out of place, with a lot of adrenaline running through your body. There’s also a lot of mixed emotions. Here I am doing my thing, doing what I’ve worked so hard for and dreamed of my entire life, so I try to enjoy it. It’s tough, though. You can’t help the nerves in your gut, because this means the world to you, and there’s a lot riding on the opportunity that lies ahead. Some guys start getting loud—barking, yelling and all kinds of things. However, I try to keep within myself. Keep calm, conserve my energy, and express my emotions on the field.

One other thing about Sunday—football and music go hand in hand. No wonder rock or hip hop pounds in the stadium when fans are getting pumped up to see two teams play some smashmouth football. For me, music goes with everything. I’m sitting here doing this blog and there’s music in the background. I write my own music, so I can create a whole pre-game soundtrack of experiences and emotions I can relate to. I think that’s what music is all about—being able to relate to it, to really feel it and let it take you where you want to go, be it getting ready for the game or just kicking back. If you’re interested, listen to some of the beats I’ve produced at my website and tell me what you think by clicking here.

And, check in again to see my pick for this year’s Heisman, my pre-game routine, and much more. Got any questions? Fire away! One more thing: I often post cool, inspirational quotes on Twitter like,“We were destined for good…it’s our determination that makes us great!” See the latest at @Jonathanstewar1.

Until next time, JStew out!

 

—As told to Ashley Jude Collie