By Mary Kate Lau, SDA Digital Communications Intern
As a safety, Riccardo Stewart played a big role on the Sun Devil defense, but in his return to Arizona State football, he is starring in a much different role as the team chaplain.
Everyone has that one friend who is impossible to talk to without someone interrupting every 30 seconds to say hi.
Riccardo Stewart is that guy.
It is especially that way before game time at Sun Devil Stadium. Players look for the team chaplain to give them guidance, calm their nerves.
Members of his popular Tempe church, Redemption, yell to him on the sidelines from the student section.
He’s even introduced to some new faces; serving as a perfect example of how this team is about more than just success on the field, but a device for setting students on their life path.
When Stewart played at ASU, there was no question the four-year starting safety was a leader, just definitely not a spiritual one.
“He was one of the hardest working, overachievers during his time as a player,” Senior Associate Athletic Director Jean Boyd said. “While smaller in stature height-wise, he certainly made up for it with heart as he was one of the hardest hitting players on the defense.”
Stewart is the first to admit his life as a football player at ASU was definitely not one led by the guidance of divine morals.
“Riccardo was not perfect,” Boyd said. “He experienced speed bumps once or twice…or many times (laughs) along his ASU football journey, but had a good heart and meant well.”
It was his senior year when he started thinking seriously about life. He was in the library late one night, procrastinating on a paper when he started having questions. So, he turned to the team chaplain.
“The timing was just perfect,” he said. “I started to read the bible for the first time after I got those questions answered.”
After graduation, he started coaching at Centennial High School in Peoria then heading to Tempe to work as an associate pastor before opening up his own church.
Then another former Sun Devil, Jeff Van Raaphorst, encouraged him to get involved with the team. And here he is today: answering questions about religion just like the ones he had that Friday night in the library in 2004.
Most people would expect a team chaplain to play a big role at a university like Notre Dame or TCU, but at a public university?
“I kind of like it better that way,” Stewart said. “Part of it is I went here so I don't feel too far removed from it. Also, at [those], they get it everywhere else. It's not like that here. Here I can just be normal, answer any questions or help with situations that come up.”
Stewart described his duties as mainly character development; reinforcing some of the things Coach Todd Graham wants for his players.
“Discipline-wise on a whole, take spirituality out of it, I love what coach Graham and these guys are doing,” he said. “I've never seen anything like it.”
He takes a laid-back philosophy, letting the players come to him.
“I can relate to the guys, talk back and forth about football and not just churchy stuff.”
He has also officiated a wedding or two for former Sun Devils.
“While to some, his decision to become a spiritual leader may have come as a surprise, I find it very fitting,” Boyd said. “Riccardo always cared deeply for his teammates and it is a joy to know that he is impacting lives on a daily basis.”