Dick Harmon: BYU's Robert Anae likes Christian Stewart as quarterback Taysom Hill's backup

Published: Saturday, July 5 2014 4:45 p.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, July 5 2014 6:20 p.m. MDT

BYU's Christian Stewart runs the second team offense during practice at the Smith Fieldhouse on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

PROVO — Folks are well-acquainted with BYU junior quarterback Taysom Hill. But who will back him up?

That player is crucial, as shown at Utah State and Utah, where Chuckie Keeton and Travis Wilson both went down with injuries in the middle of the 2013 season. The guy off the bench is more than insurance, and it's invaluable if he can keep the train going down the track.

BYU enjoyed the great luxury last year of having Ammon Olsen back up Hill. But Olsen wasn’t needed. Or, more accurately put, he wasn’t used or called upon. He decided to leave Hill's shadow and is battling for a starting job at SUU under new coordinator Gary Crowton.

That opened the door for a guy who’s been as loyal to the Cougars as they could ever ask for, a guy who walked on before his LDS mission and upon returning from church service, took Snow College to a bowl victory on the East Coast to show his worth and wares.

The guy’s name is Christian Stewart, a former star at Orem’s Timpanogos High. At Snow, he put up big numbers, showed excellent accuracy and displayed a knack for reading defenses. Even his high school freshman coach, Aaron Bales, remembers Stewart as “a guy who was a great leader, a hard worker with a good sense for the game.”

As a ninth-grader, he even played defense and led the freshman team in interceptions.

BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae has seen enough of Stewart to make him the backup to Hill — and it isn’t even a debatable point.

Anae made that clear during BYU’s summer media day last month. This month, Stewart and Hill are going through informal workouts and voluntary passing sessions as the dog days of summer creep toward August and fall camp.

“Stewart is our No. 2 guy.” said Anae. “And he can run. He can really run. He can do some of the same things as Taysom. Both of those quarterbacks are in a level that is very efficient and they are similar.”

Anae likes that because he doesn’t have to carry two different scripts like he did when Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps were playing. To have similar QBs with the same skill set is a pretty comfortable luxury for not only the coordinator and QB coach, but the rest of the offense.

“In my opinion, you want to do what each quarterback can do with his skill set. We were saying to Riley, 'Here, go, go go.' And then with Jake, we had another set of plays and we said, 'Here, go, go, go.'

“It’s not ideal. A couple of teams have done that, but with Taysom and Christian, we don’t have any of that. We have one script.”

At Snow College, Stewart, a 6-2, 201-pounder, earned all-conference honors and was the MVP of the Carrier Dome Bowl. He was second in the nation in touchdown passes (39) his second year at Snow.

In high school, Stewart ranked among the top passers in Utah high school history with 44 touchdown passes from 2005-07 at Timpanogos. His 319-yards-per-game passing average ranks No. 3 all time in Utah.

When he came to BYU after that Snow College bowl game, he was battling Olsen for a role as Hill mended from knee surgery. He threw a 52-yard bomb to Ross Apo in the final scrimmage of the 2013 spring camp.

His last starting action in the Carrier Dome in November 2012, Stewart led the No. 4 Badgers over No. 3 ASA College, 47-21. Backed by an outstanding defense that gave him short fields, Stewart threw to six different receivers for 283 yards and three touchdowns.

Nobody knows if Stewart will get much action this fall with Hill receiving preseason accolades left and right. Hill is a star expected to be on the field as long as the Cougars need him.

But, Stewart does have post-high school experience that is recent and effective.

It could count for something come September.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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