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December 18, 2013

Former receiver one of the early walk-on success stories at Tech

By: Jimmy Robertson

Michael Stuewe worked his way into being a success story at Tech, and not surprisingly, he is now successful in his management position at Travel Centers of America

Michael Stuewe started his career as a walk-on, but went on to become an important wide receiver for the Hokies during the mid-1990s.

Even more than 20 years later, Michael Stuewe still laughs when thinking about how he ended up at Virginia Tech.

The New Jersey native got noticed when Tech’s coaching staff watched film of one of his teammates, a tailback, and they noticed this gangly kid wearing a No. 88 jersey playing receiver and making a bunch of plays. Then-receivers coach Terry Strock got in touch with Stuewe’s high school, and later, with Stuewe himself, ultimately inviting him down for a visit.

Stuewe and his dad took a trip that summer to visit several colleges, and Stuewe was all set to go to the University of Richmond. But his dad wanted him to visit Virginia Tech, and they made their way to Blacksburg. Along the way, Stuewe was grumbling about the additional travel, so his dad turned the car around and started to head back to New Jersey.

Rather than make his dad upset, Stuewe told him to turn the car back around and head toward Southwest Virginia.

“I knew it would have been a long trip back,” Stuewe said. “He turned it around, and we went to Blacksburg and had a great visit. Sharon McCloskey [current senior associate AD and senior woman administrator at Tech] showed us around, and I got to meet all the coaches. They offered me the chance to walk on, and I decided to take it.”

Stuewe ended up becoming another successful Tech walk-on story, one of many under head coach Frank Beamer over the years. The former receiver, who played at Tech from 1994-97, earned a scholarship in the spring of his redshirt freshman season and earned letters his final three seasons. He caught 53 passes in that span, five for touchdowns.

Of course, he didn’t exactly walk into greatness right from the start. It took time, patience and a lot of hard work. In fact, his first season, he didn’t have a locker in Tech’s football locker room.

“There were about 12 of us who were walk-ons, and our lockers were in a room down the hall from the locker room,” he said. “I think my locker number was 113. Two years later, I think all 12 of those guys were gone but me.

“That first year, I was basically an unknown. Then you try to go through spring and try doing something to get the coaches to notice you. The next season, I started to earn some respect as a scout-team player. My goal was to be the scout team player of the week.”

In the spring of 1995, Beamer pulled Stuewe aside following one of the team’s practices and told him that he wanted to see him in his office. During their brief meeting, he told Stuewe that he was going to put him on scholarship.

Stuewe became a steady performer over the course of his final three seasons at Tech. In 1995, he caught 13 passes for 122 yards and helped Tech to the Sugar Bowl. The next season, he caught 25 passes for 385 yards and five touchdowns, as the Hokies made it to the Orange Bowl.

That season marked Stuewe’s best in Blacksburg, and his most memorable moment as a Hokie came that season. In a November game at the old Orange Bowl, Stuewe caught a third-quarter touchdown pass from Jim Druckenmiller to break a 7-7 tie with Miami. With less than two minutes left in the game, Keion Carpenter intercepted a pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Hokies a landmark win over the Hurricanes.

In the Orange Bowl against Nebraska, Stuewe caught two passes for 23 yards in the Hokies’ 41-21 loss – a game in which Nebraska scored the final 17 points of the game. But the game was memorable for the entire Stuewe family despite the loss.

Stuewe’s father, Dennis, played at Nebraska from 1960-62 for then-coach Bob Devaney. A guy named Tom Osborne was a graduate assistant on that staff. Of course, Osborne went on to become a Hall of Fame coach at the school.

“He [Stuewe’s dad] got a chance to say hi [to Osborne], and I got a chance to meet him,” Stuewe said. “That was pretty cool.”

Stuewe caught 15 passes for 180 yards in his last season at Tech. The 1997 team went 7-5 and lost to North Carolina 42-3 in the Gator Bowl. The Tar Heels should have been in a major bowl and ended up finishing with an 11-1 record.

Stuewe graduated in 1998 with a degree in hospitality and tourism management. In late spring of that year, he signed a free-agent contract with the NFL’s Detroit Lions and went to their preseason camp.

“That was an unbelievable experience,” Stuewe said. “To be in the huddle with guys like [running back] Barry Sanders and [receiver] Herman Moore and [receiver] Johnnie Morton and [quarterback] Scott Mitchell and to play for a coach like Bobby Ross … it was just surreal.”

Stuewe injured himself that preseason and decided to end his pursuit of playing professional football. He married longtime girlfriend Suzanne Natili, a former HighTech who got her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Tech, the following May. The two had dated since his freshman year at Tech.

He landed a job in management with Travel Centers of America, and while he’s changed job positions over the years, he still remains with the company, selling diesel fuel and truck maintenance services. He, his wife and their four sons – Michael (age 11), Matthew (9), Luke (7) and Gabriel (2) – live in Avon Lake, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland.

With his kids involved in all sorts of sports, he rarely finds time to get back to Blacksburg for games in the fall – the last time he came to a regular-season game at Lane Stadium was the 2009 Tech-Nebraska game. He and his dad also went to Lincoln, Neb., in 2008 for the Tech-Nebraska game out there.

Even though he doesn’t get back in the fall that often, he has brought his family to town for the spring game, including last year’s game.

“We’ve got games here, there and everywhere, so we don’t get back often,” Stuewe said. “We’ll come down once or twice a year, usually for the spring game.

“It’s amazing. My kids got a picture with Logan Thomas. They were excited about that, and he was just great about it. We got to see Coach [Frank] Beamer and Coach [Bud] Foster and Coach [Charley] Wiles. I saw Coach [Jim] Cavanaugh and Coach [Billy] Hite, too. Of course, I played with Shane [Beamer] and Cornell [Brown] and Torrian [Gray].

“It’s crazy. I don’t know if there is any place in the country with that type of longevity. Those guys have been there a while, and it’s nice, as a former player, to go back and have that and be able to see all those familiar faces.”

Stuewe stays modest about his status as a former football player. But it crops up in conversations every once in a while.

In fact, he relayed a story about something that transpired when his wife taught fourth grade before they started their family. He keeps a picture of him and Sanders, considered by many to be the greatest running back ever to play in the NFL, standing on the sidelines during a preseason game in one of the rooms in their home. His wife told her fourth graders that her husband played football. She took the picture to the class, and Stuewe later found himself speaking to the class about putting school first.

A short time later, he received a thank-you note from one of the students.

“She said, ‘That was a cool pic of you and some guy named Sanders,’” he laughed. “I got quite the kick out of that.”

It was, indeed, cool that he got to play with Barry Sanders. But Tech fans will remember him for more than that. They’ll remember him for working hard and becoming a success at Tech, like many of the Hokies’ walk-ons over the years.

For them, it’s a story that will never get old.