For the last three seasons, safety Darian Stewart has been a solid, steady presence in the back of the Broncos' secondary. The 30-year-old Alabama native has missed just one game since arriving in Denver, and he's collected at least 63 tackles, one interception and five passes defensed in each season as a Bronco. Seven of his nine career interceptions have come with the Broncos, and he was a key member of the "No-Fly Zone" secondary that helped lead Denver to a Super Bowl 50 victory. We talked with the nine-year veteran about his rise from undrafted free agent, how he's managed to stay healthy and what he's learned over his time in the league.
ZP: Growing up, you played three sports in high school — you ran track, and you played basketball and football. How do you feel like that helped you growing up and transitioning between all those seasons?
DS: "It was good. It kept me busy. It kept me out of trouble. My first sport was actually soccer, and from playing that I was able to get early footwork. It got me better and it got me ready for football. I didn't start playing football until I was in seventh, eighth grade, and I started off at running back, and I worked my way to [defensive back] when I got to high school."
ZP: You entered the league undrafted, so nothing was given to you, and you had to earn everything. How do you think that early mentality coming into the league has helped you in your almost decade in the league?
DS: "Oh man, it's gotten me where I am today. It's just keeping that hunger. Each year you play this game — you're able to play this game — you always want to be better than you were the year before. So that's always been my focus, just to be better than the year before, and that's just kept me growing as a person, as a man and as a player."
ZP: When you look at when you came into the league vs. where you are now, what do you think is the biggest difference?
DS: "The biggest difference is probably the playbook. When I was first in the league going home, we used to go home with probably 20 DVDs. Nowadays we have [tablets] and we're able to watch as much film as we want to right on our [tablets], so I think that having that right there has helped me grow as a player."
ZP: You have some young defensive backs and some young safeties in the secondary with you this year. How do you think your leadership has developed during your time in the league?
DS: "It's just keeping me sharp as a player. They're keeping me young, and I'm up for the challenge. I know being the oldest guy in the room at safety, they look for me for advice sometimes outside of the coaches. So I just try to help them out as much as I can and just be available for them."
ZP: You've been able to stay pretty healthy throughout your career. Has that been something that you focus on during the offseason?
DS: "It's definitely been something I focus on in the offseason. As I've gotten older, I've learned how to take care of my body obviously, and it's something that's gotten better. I probably only take two weeks off during the offseason to calm my body down. But I'm always getting body work, making sure the body's healthy and right."
ZP: You were a part of that Super Bowl team. How does that still motivate you a couple of years later, and is the feeling of winning it all always in the back of your mind?
DS: "Oh yeah, absolutely. As long as you play this game, you're always searching for another one. That's what keeps us coming to work every day: playing for championships. That's what we're trying to build here."
ZP: Over the offseason, do you set any individual or team goals? How do you approach what you want to do each coming year?
DS: "I just really focus on taking care of the small things: the body, just being in-tune mentally, and everything else is going to take care of itself. You can't do any of this without your teammates. You make sure you're right, and everything else will work out."
ZP: You're a big family guy [Stewart has a wife and a daughter]. How has that influenced your perspective on the game and on life in general?
DS: "Those two girls, that's why I do this. That's what motivates me to do this too. I was already motivated before, but just seeing a smile on my child's face… She enjoys this, just being around the facility. I think that right there drives me to make sure I'm doing what I need to do."