By Craig Beilfuss

ANN ARBOR—The Michigan Wolverines football team finished spring camp with their annual Blue and Maize spring football game on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor.

North Muskegon’s Noah Stewart, an offensive lineman, played the fourth quarter in a game won by the Blue Team, 20-12. The game was played before a turnout estimated at 12,000. Stewart was a member of the Maize team.

Stewart (6-7, 274) is a walk-on at Michigan who is majoring in Economics with a minor in Business. At the same time, he is working to earn more playing time for the reigning Big Ten champions.

Michigan is coming off a 2021 season in which they finished with a 12-2 overall record. They finished with a 9-1 record in the East Division of the Big Ten Conference along with winning the Big Ten championship game over Iowa 42-3. The Wolverines lost in the national semifinals to Georgia in the Orange Bowl. Michigan finished third in the final Associated Press poll.

Winning the Big Ten was a great experience as well as making it to the college football playoff,” Stewart said. “But, our coaches and captains have stressed the point that, that’s now the standard and we cannot be looking in the rearview mirror at our accomplishments. Instead we need to be looking at what we can do to improve on that.

Team 142 is in the books; it’s now time for 143,” Stewart said.

Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez

Stewart discussed his playing days at North Muskegon along with head NM coach Larry Witham, how he came to making the decision to go to Michigan, his mentors and what it is like to walk out of the tunnel on a Saturday afternoon in the Big House.

I played 3 years at the varsity level at North Muskegon,” Stewart said. “Over those years, I made some of my best friends, most of whom I am still in close contact with and will continue to be in contact with hopefully for the rest of my life.

Stewart graduated from North Muskegon in 2020. In his 3 years he was the First-Team Offensive and Defensive lineman in the West Michigan Conference. He also made the MLive All-Area team.

Coming out of high school, Stewart was a 3-star prospect, the 57th best prospect in the state of Michigan and the 204th-ranked offensive lineman in the nation.

One of Stewart’s biggest supporters was on hand from North Muskegon, Norseman coach Larry Witham.

As far as his days at NM are concerned, he came onto the scene as a freshman with a very thin and gangly frame,” Witham said. “It came down to either playing tennis or football as a freshman, and thank God for us that he chose to play football.

He had a very nice campaign on the jayvees that year, with another 20 freshmen on the JVs that year as well,” Witham said. “Because of that, Noah was brought up to the varsity as a sophomore in 2017.

Noah really began to fill into his body as a sophomore,” Witham said. “Although he never cracked the lineup during his sophomore year, he did see time on the field and gained significant experience that would pay dividends for the remainder of his career.”

Noah Stewart with his father Mike (left) and North Muskegon head football coach Larry Witham (right) on Saturday afternoon following the Michigan spring football game (Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez)

During his junior year, Stewart became a two-way starter at offensive tackle and defensive end. His hard work helped to develop a body to match his 6-7 frame. He added weight and strength as well and that attracted the attention of coaches.

It’s hard not to notice a kid that towers over virtually everyone in the league,” Witham said.

Stewart was quick to compliment Witham for help along the way.

I credit a lot of my accomplishments to Coach Witham,” Stewart said.

After my sophomore season ended, we had our annual football awards banquet,” he said “When it was my turn to accept my varsity letter, I can still recall Coach Witham saying ‘this is a kid that in the future will be playing on Saturdays.’

At that time, I was a 6-7, 200-pound gangly offensive lineman and was on nobody’s radar, though that statement gave me confidence that it was possible,” Stewart said.

His biggest and most impactful season came in his senior year,” Witham said.

Stewart put in the offseason work and reached 245 pounds. And, he was fast for his size, running the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds. The NM coaching staff even toyed with the idea of playing him at tight end.

Instead, Stewart opted to play left tackle.

He blossomed into one of the best offensive linemen not just in the conference, but in the area as well,” Witham said.

The interest in Stewart began to blossom from teams in the Midwest and East. That included in-state schools Eastern, Western and Central Michigan universities and Division 2 schools such as Michigan Tech and South Dakota State. But once Michigan saw his film and offered Noah a preferred walk-on opportunity, Noah’s childhood dream became reality – to play in the Big House for the University of Michigan.”

Now that spring camp at Michigan has come to a close, Stewart is making plans for the coming months.

Summers are where I, as a developmental player, make my biggest jumps,” Stewart said. “The month of May is our discretionary month so no mandatory football events can take place, however they do give us an optional lifting schedule for us to take home so that when June comes around and we all go back on campus, we can hit the ground running.”

Summer strength and conditioning begin in early June and that continues until fall camp starts on Aug. 6. There will be just a few days off during that tie. The sole priority is becoming bigger, fast and stronger. It’s a regimen that goes 6 days a week.

For me, the biggest thing is to just put on more weight,” Stewart said. “I’ve gone from 245 to 285, but I still will need a good 15 pounds to be able to compete for more playing time.”

Stewart has experienced the difficulty of being the best player on his high school team to competing for playing time at the winningest program in the nation’s history.

It was something that nothing could prepare me for,” Stewart said. At North Muskegon, I was the biggest and strongest guy on my team, but I still remember during our freshman orientation when we all got on campus in June. Seeing the size of the other guys and thinking ‘how the hell am I gonna compete with these guys.’”

Stewart’s first roommates were three players from very large and successful private schools that played national schedules.

Here I was from a small public school where we had 27 guys on our roster and our furthest game was two and half hours away,” Stewart said.

Noah Stewart with his parents Mike and Kerri Stewart (Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez)

Mike and Kerri Stewart, Noah’s parents, were on hand for Saturday’s spring game. Mike Stewart himself was a college football player at Michigan Tech and was Noah’s biggest mentor growing up.

My biggest mentor would be my father,” Stewart said. “I’ve always looked up to him for advice and used his life as sort of a template to see how to become successful.

He played college football at MIchigan Tech and is a big reason why I first wanted to play football in college,” Stewart said “I still remember when I would go to my grandparents’ house and look through old newspaper clips of him from high school as well as this manilla envelope that was filled with letters and all sorts of mail that recruits get.”

Stewart offered some insight to those who might be chasing college athletics at any level, but especially at a Division 1 school.

One thing I would say to kids who have a dream of playing D1 is to simply work hard and go 100 percent at everything you do, with sports and school,” Stewart said. “Don’t ever be discouraged by those who doubt you. No matter how athletic or big you are, determination is the biggest thing an athlete can have. As the saying goes, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog.”

Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez

Witham offered plenty of praise for his former star player.

Not only would Michigan provide excellence on the football field, but also in the classroom as well,” Witham said. Noah is an excellent student, earning a 3.8 GPA from his high school days to U-M.”

Recently, Stewart declared his major and Witham knows what to expect.

Knowing Noah the way I do, he will work very hard to be one of the finest economists in his field,” Witham said. We are all very proud of Noah, and we know that Noah is very proud of North Muskegon. He has a very bright future ahead of him, both on and off the field.”

Watching him play today (Saturday) during the Spring Game, with the winged helmet on the top of his head, one is reminded that hard work and perseverance can pay big dividends for a tall, thin boy from tiny North Muskegon, with big dreams and big goals,” Witham said. “Now, Noah Stewart is achieving his dreams and goals, one class and one play at a time, on one of the biggest stages of them all.”

Now Stewart is realizing the dream of running out of the tunnel at Michigan Stadium and leaping up to touch the M Club banner

I will never forget the first time leaving the locker room and seeing the crowd as I got closer to the end of the tunnel,” Stewart said.

Michigan will open the 2022 regular season on Sept. 3 at home against Colorado State. The Wolverines will play four consecutive home games to get the season underway and a total of eight home games in 2022.

All photos below are courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez