Despite having a slight limp as he walked, senior Khallil Stewart found himself without homework and stress-free as he headed home one recent evening from Addlestone Library.
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Stewart came to the College in 2014 to play soccer.
“I began playing extremely young, around the age of three,” he reminisces under the moss of the campus oaks. He adds that he cannot remember a time without a ball at his feet.
Soccer is more than just a game to Stewart – it’s his passion, love, and way of life. But the game hasn’t been without it’s challenges and heartache for this midfielder.
At 17, Stewart played for the U-17 World Cup qualifying team in Panama, before starting his college career at George Washington University. He left shortly after to play for the Cougars. But his transfer was delayed, and Stewart didn’t step onto the field wearing maroon and white during his first year at CofC. However, his determination to play led him to the Jamaican National Team in the spring of 2015. With Stewart as their center midfielder, the team became one of the spring qualifiers of the U-20 World Cup.
Upon his return in the fall of 2015, Stewart tore his ACL in the preseason. The following spring he tore the other one. That left him unable to play until spring 2017. Then Stewart tore the meniscus in one of his knees during the preseason last fall, explaining his slight limp.
“Unfortunately, I have yet to play in a fall season because I’ve been injured so many times,” he says.
But he refuses to let his injuries hold him back. Stewart continues to attend two-a-day practices Monday, Wednesday and Friday beginning at 6 a.m. He also trains outside on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He religiously attends physical therapy. And he has recently integrated yoga into his recovery.
“I’m not in any hurry to push before I’m ready,” says Stewart. “I am going to do everything in my power to heal completely, so I can play to my greatest ability.”
To numb the emotional pain of losing his ability to play the sport he loves, Stewart has found music. He recently began working with local singers to help them realize their own dreams of producing their songs.
“It’s something to keep me occupied while I’m healing. It keeps me sane,” he admits.
It also helps, he says, being in such a beautiful city, surrounded by people and coaches who stick by him. The coaches, in particular, are highly dedicated to the soccer program, he says. Stewart enjoys the professional environment and high standards set for the team because he knows it will help him achieve his ultimate goal: playing professionally.
“I hope to play again soon,” says Stewart. “I graduate next fall. So, I plan to have a great fall season and either enter the draft or go overseas and play in the European League, maybe for Germany or England in the second division and work my way up.”
These days, it’s all about developing himself as a player.
“I know more about taking care of myself physically and mentally now,” says Stewart. “I’ll be working on my craft and grinding until I make it to the next level.”
When asked why he was so sure he could make it, he responded humbly, “I’ve never loved something so much and if I were to quit, I don’t think I could…I couldn’t live without soccer. I want this way too badly to let an injury stop me. Enduring this whole process has been extremely mentally challenging. It has pushed me to my mental limits, and if I’m honest, I almost broke a few times. But I still want this, and I’m not going to stop until I get it.”
Stewart is not pushing himself simply for personal gain – he hopes to one day inspire others and prove that persistence, drive, belief and passion can help anyone achieve their greatest hopes. “I want to inspire people to be their best selves by showing them that I’m trying to do the same.”
Keep an eye out this spring for Stewart sporting No. 11, healthy and ready to bring the College some victories on the soccer field.
Lauren Vega is a junior from Huntington, West Virginia, studying arts management and international studies in the Honors College at the College of Charleston. She is also a National Merit Scholar, a scholar in the International Studies Program, and a 200-hour registered yoga teacher.