Jonathan Stewart: Inside the Mind of an Athlete

Jonathan Stewart, giving God the Glory.

*This interview and story is featured in my book Hustle Believe Receive 


This is the 4th interview and story in my 5 part series “Inside the Mind of an Athlete.” A series designed to inspire and motivate you to live your dream. Each with a different focus meant to provide you with tools and real life examples that these tools really do work. It’s possible for anyone, for you, to take what you’ve learned in this series and change your life.  All the tools to success using the #HBRMethod have been demonstrated in this series, and if applied can bring you the life you desire and deserve to live.

This weeks focus is on what happens when you’ve achieved your Ultimate Dream; living it, day in and day out. It seems counter-intuitive on the surface to chose this topic for an interview, yet it’s such a critical part of achieving success.  If you’ve worked most of your life chasing your dream that requires one mindset, but actually living it is a whole different thing. It takes a strong mind to keep your footing and not get caught up in the pitfalls of success. It also takes aware intention so you don’t become complacent and stagnate when you’ve reached your goal. This story will prepare you for when your dream comes true, so that you can handle it with grace.

Meet Jonathan Stewart, star running back for the Carolina Panthers. Jonathan was my “wild card” in this series, the only one out of the five players I profiled whom I did not know personally. But when I came up with this idea initially, he was the only player I wanted for the “NFL veteran” piece.  I just knew he’d be perfect. I’ve known of Jonathan for several years, as we have many common friends and have followed him on social media, so I knew his reputation for being a upstanding positive guy and devout Christian was exactly what I wanted this piece to be about. I even wrote out the interview questions specifically for him over a month ago, yet had no idea how I was going to make it happen. But I was determined, trying to get the story idea in front of him, hoping he’d see it somehow.  A week ago he commented on a post about Kenjon Barner’s story, saying that he’d be happy to share his story as well. When he called yesterday I was so glad I’d taken the time weeks ago to prepare for this interview and was ready on the spot!  For me it was a great manifestation of everything I teach; gotta put the work in (Hustle), believe it will happen (Believe) and be ready when it does (Receive).

Jonathan, like the other athletes in this series played football at Oregon, entering the NFL draft his junior year. He was selected as the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft by the Panthers, and is entering his 7th season with the team.  I asked Jonathan, to tell me his story and what football meant to him growing up.

“I was always the little kid growing up, out there playing catch with my older brother and his friends getting teased for being the little guy.” He laughs a little. Jonathan’s parents divorced when he was in fourth grade, and his mom began dating a man named James Parker. “He really fell into that father figure role in my life. He’d come to our apartment complex and we’d go to the field across the street, and he’d be out there throwing the ball with me for hours. He’d leave work early, or drop whatever he was doing to come teach me the game of football and spend that time with me. He introduced me to flag football my fifth grade year, and always encouraged me, never pushed or forced, just encouraged. So football came with a sense of comfort and a connection with someone who really cared about me, it came from a place of love.”

In 7th grade Jonathan began playing select league tackle football and started to notice two things: 1. He was always the smallest kid on the team and 2. He was starting to love it, and he was pretty good at it. In high school Jonathan racked up the most yards of anyone on the varsity team as a non-starting freshman, and then the “high school hype” started. “My mom raised me in church and that’s always been really important to me. I was blessed to see that at a very young age and always put God first in everything I do. So in high school I just wanted to play football, honor God and focus on school. I felt like football was my tool to honor God. Everything I did was for that end, and to make sure I was living up to that potential.”

In 2008 when Jonathan was drafted, he signed a deal with the Panthers for $14 million, and resigned with them in 2012 for a reported $35.5 million on a five year contract. Knowing what I do about money and athletes, and seeing first hand how it destroys perfectly good people, I needed to know how Jonathan’s been able to keep his head about him after seven seasons in the league.  Especially with the distraction that type of money can bring. Many players unravel when they reach this level of success. They lose a grasp on reality and are not able to think past it. The “be careful what you wish for” factor tends to take affect.

So I had to ask…

Sarah: How have you managed to stay grounded and not complacent in your success?

Jonathan:  The key to staying grounded is to stay yourself. You remember where you came from and you don’t change, you adapt.  You refuse to change for anyone and surround yourself with the people who have always been there for you. If you are true to yourself that is the kind of people you will attract, those are the kind of people who are drawn to me. I think it’s like; if you go to a Country Music concert you’ll see mostly country fans, because that’s whats on the stage, that’s what people are attracted to. So if your heart is true, that’s what is playing on your ‘stage’, and those are the types of people you will attract to yourself.   

You also need to have a good internal radar to know who’s real and who’s fake, to steer clear of the mess. I don’t ever want to be seen as something I’m not. I watch who I interact with because I know you will be judged by the company you keep. You become very aware of that, and the company you keep becomes who you want to be. If you really want to be successful you need to filter what comes at you. 

Sarah: Where does that mental strength come from? 

Jonathan:  Having faith is what’s kept me strong. When your mind, body, and spirit are connected, that’s when it really begins to have it’s full effect on your life. When my body is not where I want it to be, I have to make sure my mind and spirit are top notch, so that I’m inline with where I need to be. I turn to the Word of God, and the Bible to maintain a positive spirit, and remind myself that whatever I’m going through, I will be okay.  Especially when I’m going through struggles, I remind myself that God has been faithful to me through
everything, I’ve made it through them before, I can do it again. And having gratitude no mater what. If something is going wrong I focus
on what God’s given me, and not on my problems. It especially helps when you’re faced with an injury, it’s easy to get down and upset because you’re not out there doing what you need to do.  But I don’t let myself dwell in self-pity. Your mind is such a powerful thing, it’s critical to keep it full of gratitude, because that energy effects everything, including
your physical health and recovery. 
Sarah:  What does it feel like to live your dream?
Jonathan:  To play football was never really my dream.  I always thought it would be great if I could, but I never necessarily made that my goal. In high school I wanted to go to college and football was the way to do that. I always had the mindset that if I do everything within my power that God will open the doors and take me where I should go, so I didn’t worry about the outcome. I have joy. So I’ve always let that guide me. Making sure I keep and live in that joy. That really is my dream at the end of the day; to always have joy and not have to worry about the outcome.My mom was a single mom, raising two boys and I never saw her worry. I know she must have, but she never showed that to me, she had faith that God would provide and he always did.  She never focused on what we didn’t have or tell me we didn’t have money even though I know times were tight, she didn’t focus on that. So I’ve always been the same, not worrying about what will happen just working hard and living in the joy of the moment, and trusting God with the rest. God gives me peace and provides everything I need when I need it, so I just try to glorify him. 
Sarah: What is your dream now? 
Jonathan:  To win the Super Bowl and to make an impact in as big of a way as possible on peoples lives. In whatever way that comes about, I want to fulfill the plan that God has for my life.   I have a passion for making and producing music.  I have a production company, but I make sure the music I produce is not negative or derogatory, especially towards women. I want to uplift people.  My goal is to inspire others, it’s the backbone of my life, to reach a place where I could motivate people to reach their goals and dreams.  I want them to see that they can accomplish something greater than they can even imagine. Football is a platform for me to make an impact on peoples lives and I try to use it to create momentum to effect others in a positive way. 
Sarah: What’s your Hustle?
Jonathan: Never settling.  I have a kids football camp every year, it’s the “Jonathan Stewart Never Settle football camp,” I tell the kids to be extraordinary.  Do extra in everything that
you do. Do that consistently, and when you do over time it becomes who you are. Weather it’s a goal or a dream, seek out people who can help hold you accountable to that goal, find things and ways to push you that extra mile, so it becomes who you are. It’s a lifestyle that you create and attract to yourself.
A quote from Jonathan’s Instagram page.


I don’t know about you but Jonathan kinda exceeded my hopes for this piece. I had so many aha moments listening to him talk today. A huge one for me was the concept of living in joy. That stopped me in my tracks. Who lives in joy? I want that. I’ve always thought joy was so fleeting, like being in love… but to hear that it’s also a choice, a conscious decision, and a guiding force of life… that was powerful.
The other major one for me was hearing him talk about his mom.  How she didn’t focus on “lack” and communicating that lack to him or his brother while they were growing up. That hit very close to home for me because growing up poor that’s what I’ve always known. Talking about not having money, and even the last few years as I’ve been able to change my financial situation I still have always talked about it around my kids.  That was life changing right there for me. Realizing I was carrying on a negative pattern from my childhood that had negatively affected me as an adult, and knowing now I can change that pattern for my kids.
Of course I loved Jonathan’s views on gratitude and the critical role it plays in our success and happiness. And a lesson that has come up over and over in this series is surround yourself with the type of people you want to become. I can’t stress this point enough. If you want to be successful seek out successful like minded people.  Realize that the company you keep does define you and don’t be afraid to change up that circle if it’s no longer serving you. I also love that Jonathan’s belief in God is something he turns to for strength and peace, and the way he does that is the same way you can draw on whatever it is you believe in to give you that sense of peace and security. It’s a beautiful thing.
I hope this series has inspired you to go after your dream, whatever it might be. I hope you’ve taken the tools these guys have shared and incorporated them into your life. And I hope the next time you watch a football game you think about these guys a little differently than you did before. They are inspiring to me not because of what they have accomplished on the field, but because of how they have learned to control their mind, harness their motivation, and manifest their dreams. Those are all the same exact skills you can learn to master as well.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Jonathan today…
“Happiness is temporary.  But joy is forever.” -Jonathan Stewart 


Follow Jonathan’s journey on Instagram @jonathanstewart1 and on Twitter @jonathanstewart1


Be sure to read AND SHARE the other stories in this series:
Week #1: Derrick Malone Jr -Current Oregon Linebacker
Week #2: Lavasier Tuinei -NFL Undrafted Free Agent “The Hustle”
Week #3: Kenjon Barner -NFL running back Panthers
Week #4: Jonathan Stewart -NFL running back Panthers (this one)
Week #5: Patrick Johnson -NFL retired Super Bowl Champion
I love this picture of Jonathan and Kenjon… Ducks fly together!

Feedback on this story from Jonathan and his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Jonathan’s Facebook post
Comments on his Facebook post of the story
Facebook comments


His Instagram Post


Instagram comments
Twitter post had over 20 retweets and favorites in the first few hours


What do you think of Jonathan’s story? Did it change the way you view football players? What did you learn? Please comment and share.
Author Bio:
Sarah Centrella is a Success Coach for professional athletes, the Reality TV show REVERSED, and anyone with a dream. She is also an author an motivational speaker. Follow her on Twitter for motivation and inspiration, be sure to  Subscribe for my newsletter and info on free coaching classes.


  • Tony
    May 29, 2014 - 4:25 am | Permalink

    Your right I never watch football and think I had a certain idea of what football players are like and he seems very different then I thought. He seems like such a humble person. Thanks for the post it was really refreshing.

  • Jason
    June 2, 2014 - 3:53 am | Permalink

    Jonathan is a standup guy got sure. Nice to see he honors God.

    • Sarah Centrella
      June 2, 2014 - 4:38 am | Permalink

      He really is, blew me away.

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