When not crashing into opposing players this season, linebacker Ed
Stewart spent his time playing video games with small children. It
wasn't all play, though: Stewart, a senior who last August earned a
degree in psychology at Nebraska, was conducting research on the
ability of children to adjust to delayed gratification. In the
experiment, five-year-olds were given the option of either playing
with a video game immediately for 30 seconds or waiting a few minutes
to get two minutes of game time. Initially, the children usually
opted for playing right away -- a response that Stewart understands.
''There have been studies that show that children who grasp the
concept of self-control at an early age generally tend to be more
successful as they get older,'' Stewart says. ''I believe in delayed
gratification. I've had to learn it, too.''
As a freshman, Stewart was a test case for coach Tom Osborne and
defensive coordinator Charlie McBride, who were revamping the
Nebraska defense after the Cornhuskers were dominated defensively in
a 23-3 loss to Miami in the 1989 Orange Bowl. Osborne and his staff
began recruiting quicker players -- like Stewart, who runs the 40 in
4.73 seconds -- and converting them to linebackers. ''I was recruited
as a safety and weighed only 195 pounds,'' says Stewart, who was a
safety and a running back at Mount Carmel High in Chicago, where his
team won back-to-back state championships. ''I wanted to play safety,
but I was redshirted. I didn't like the switch at first.''
But in time the strategy proved successful. Stewart gained 25
pounds and played in 10 games the next year -- he had 11 tackles in
the Cornhuskers' 1991 Orange Bowl loss to Miami -- and has started in
37 consecutive games since. This season he led the team with 96
tackles, including 41 solos and 18 quarterback hurries, and was a
finalist for the Butkus Award behind Dana Howard of Illinois. He
ranks fifth on Nebraska's list of alltime leading tacklers, with 257,
three more than 1993 Butkus winner Trev Alberts, now with the
Needless to say, the Husker coaches have been pleased with the
results of their experiment. ''Ed blitzes so hard that he peels the
skin off his eyeballs,'' says McBride.
Now, with the national title in hand, Stewart can return this
spring to continue his work in child psychology, then pursue his
Ph.D. ''At some point I'd like to get that doctor in front of my
name,'' Stewart says. His own on- the-field experiment is over, and
he says, ''I guess it was all worth it.'' Ed Stewart doesn't have to
delay his gratification any longer.