AJ Steward Calls Oregon State A 'No Brainer' & 'Heaven' For An RB Coach
When running backs coach Michael Pitre departed for the Chicago Bears this past offseason, he left some mighty big shoes to fill.
Not only had Pitre churned out two NFL-bound 'backs in Jermar Jefferson & Artavis Pierce during his tenure, but he had also become the Beavers' ace on the recruiting trail.
It was a big loss for Oregon State and head coach Jonathan Smith, but good programs can absorb coaching turnover and emerge on the other side with another rising star.
The Beavers are hoping that AJ Steward is that guy.
Following a one-year stint at Arizona in 2020, Steward found himself in need of a new situation after the dismissal of Kevin Sumlin at the end of the season.
Once it was known that Pitre was moving on, Steward found himself drawn to Corvallis and Oregon State as the situation and fit was a match made in heaven.
"When the opportunity presented itself, it was a no-brainer for a running backs coach," Steward said. "This is like running backs coach heaven for the style of offense we run and the guys we have in the room."
While Steward's previous stops before Arizona didn't make him super familiar with Oregon State, he gained a lot of respect for Smith's program and Pitre's running backs watching them on film study at various points last season.
"I remember watching Oregon State vs Washington on film and was really impressed with the discipline that the offense played with. The guys played hard, the schemes were sound, and the running backs had great discipline. I became a fan of them just watching them on film and seeing how things were run over here."
While replacing a coach like Pitre is never an easy task, Beaver fans should feel at home knowing Smith picked another rising up and comer that boasts a lot of the same qualities as Pitre.
"We're very similar in the sense that we're going to develop our players and hold them to a high standard with a very disciplined and fundamental approach. We're going to do things the right way, and so we're very similar in that regard. As far as our core qualities and what we believe in as coaches, we're very similar."
In terms of what Steward will have to work with this season, it's an impressive collection of talent that's capable of big things.
While Jefferson is off to the NFL, the Beavers boast a running back room that features the likes of B.J. Baylor, Deshaun Fenwick, Trey Lowe, Ta'Ron Madison, & Isaiah Newell. Add in incoming freshman Damir Collins and Steward will have himself quite the crop of talent as he looks to carry the torch left by Pitre.
"The first thing that stands out is just how big these guys are. We have a really big room and it's obvious these guys did a really good job in the weight room. We have a good mix of size and speed in the room, so you're very impressed when you walk in. Coach Pitre has done a great job building the room up in a way where we can pass it off to me and stay in stride."