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An ankle with a metal plate, 5 screws won’t keep Merced star from playing one last time.

Merced’s Xavier Stewart

An ankle injury sidelined this former Merced star in his final game in the playoffs. After undergoing surgery to have a metal plate and five screws inserted into his ankle, he's ready to play one last football game.
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An ankle injury sidelined this former Merced star in his final game in the playoffs. After undergoing surgery to have a metal plate and five screws inserted into his ankle, he's ready to play one last football game.

Former Merced High star Xavier Stewart’s high school football career didn’t have a storybook ending.

Stewarts’ last game in a Bears uniform ended with him on the sideline after suffering a right ankle injury in the first quarter of the Bears’ 45-40 loss to River Valley in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. X-rays later revealed a broken ankle that eventually required surgery, which resulted in a metal plate and five screws inserted into the ankle.

A three-sport athlete, Stewart Initially thought his prep athletic career was over. Stewart missed his final basketball season, but rehabbed in time to play baseball.

On Saturday, he’ll strap on football pads one final time as a member of the South team in the 34th annual North/South Rotary Bob Green Football Classic at Veterans Stadium on the campus of Golden Valley High School. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

“I remember my brother (A.J.) saying he was about to play his last game and now I’m saying it,” said Stewart, who plans to play baseball at Merced College. “Three years ago, I never thought I’d be saying I was playing my last football game.”

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Former Merced High receiver Xavier Stewart catches a pass during an all-star practice at Atwater High on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

Stewart played three years of varsity football and Merced and would have been a four-year basketball player if not for the injury. He was named the Central California Conference’s Best Offensive Player after hauling in 43 catches for 843 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Stewart topped 100-yards receiving in five games this year and caught at least one touchdown in all 10 regular season games to help the Bears go 10-0 on their way to winning a CCC championship.

Then came the playoffs when Stewart caught a pass near the Bears’ sideline. A River Valley defensive back tackled Stewart awkwardly as he fought for extra yardage.

Stewart spent most of the game trying to get back in the game, not knowing his ankle was broken.

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Merced head coach Rob Scheidt checks on injured player Xavier Stewart (2) during a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff game against River Valley at Veterans Stadium in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. The Falcons beat the Bears 45-40. Andrew Kuhn akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

“I wanted to help my team,” Stewart said. “It was tough. I couldn’t run on it. We possibly win that game if I didn’t get hurt. With or without me, my teammates fought hard. We still had a chance to win.”

The injury and subsequent surgery cost Stewart his last basketball season at Merced High. Stewart was forced to watch from the bench.

“It was tough,” he said. “I would go to games and watch. I’d try to help by giving my teammates advice from what I could see. Ultimately I couldn’t help them much.”

Stewart relentlessly rehabbed his ankle through physical therapy so he could play baseball. He didn’t want to spend another senior season on the bench watching his team.

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Former Merced High receiver Xavier Stewart (orange helmet) and other South players look on in a huddle during a practice for the North/South Rotary Bob Green Football Classic at Atwater High in Tuesday, June 18, 2019. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

He’s looked healthy in practices this week. On Tuesday, he took a sweep around the left side and scored a 25-yard touchdown.

“He’s looked good,” said former Modesto Christian coach Mike Parsons, who is coaching the North all-stars. “I didn’t see him before the injury, but he looked good there coming around the end.”

Stewart has enjoyed his week at practice, spending time with his Merced teammates and getting to know players from other teams.

“This is my one last hurrah to show everybody what I didn’t get to show them in my last playoff game,” Stewart said. “ I want to come out of the game on my own terms because this will probably be my last time I play football.”

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