Written by SportsDayDFW.com
What Denton Guyer DB, Oklahoma State commit Josh Stewart has overcome: Death of parents, brother; escape from New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina
Valrie Stewart has known for quite some time that her grandson Josh Stewart had some special abilities. She has raised the Denton Guyer senior since he was 6 months old and has been watching him play football since he was 5 years old.
"Words can't really explain how proud I am of him," she said with a smile. "I just knew Josh was always a special person, and I always felt something good was gonna come out of everything."
Guyer senior Josh Stewart has been a standout for the Wildcats this season as a wide receiver and a defensive back, and on special teams. Guyer will face Longview in the Class 5A Division II semifinals on Saturday.
For Stewart, the word "everything" encompasses much more than most high school athletes ever endure.
Stewart lost his mother and brother in a car accident when he was 6 months old, watched his father die of a gunshot wound, and fled the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that forced his family to flee their homes in New Orleans.
Stewart persevered through it all to become an elite player for Guyer, which will take on Longview on Saturday in the Class 5A Division II state semifinals.
Stewart won't come off the field often on Saturday while playing cornerback, wide receiver and contributing on special teams.
"I tell all the recruiters that come through here, and I firmly believe it, I need you to show me a football player that does more for his team than what Josh Stewart does," said Guyer head coach John Walsh. "He's pound-for-pound maybe the best football player in the state of Texas."
It's that diverse talent that has made Stewart a special player for Guyer and a college-level prospect who plans to continue his career at Oklahoma State next season.
A win Saturday would put Guyer in the state championship game for the first time in the program's brief history in its first season as a Class 5A program.
Stewart has been a key contributor for the Wildcats as a three-year starter, but what truly sets Stewart apart is the journey he took to reach Saturday's game.
"My [grandmother] always told me I'm blessed," Stewart said. "There's so much I'm blessed with. ...There's no reason I shouldn't be happy. I'm still here."
A tough start
The start to a life full of tragedy that could have crippled many people came when Stewart was just 6 months old.
A car accident claimed the lives of Stewart's mother, Letkia Stewart, and his older brother, Johron Stewart, who was only 1 year old at the time.
At that point, Josh Stewart went to live with his mother's parents, Valrie and Charles Stewart, who he has lived with since and calls "mom" and "papa."
Then, as a 5-year-old, he was sitting on the sofa on the night of July 4, 1998. He recalls music blaring and hearing an argument between his father, Donald Edditon, and his paternal grandfather.
Edditon was intoxicated and had a gun, and his father was trying to wrestle the gun away from him. During the scuffle, the gun was inadvertently fired, shooting Edditon in the neck and killing him.
"I remember it pretty well," Stewart said. "It sounded like a glass drop. It was a gunshot, but I don't know why I always just say it was a glass drop. That's what it sounded like. Then I remember me sitting on the hood of the car and my grandfather coming out with blood on his hands. He was in shock and my dad was on the stretcher."
From that point, Stewart lived with the void of not knowing his mother or brother, except from photographs his grandmother showed him, and the heartbreak of losing his father at a young age.
"Losing his parents like he did, that's devastating to even think about," said Guyer quarterback J.W. Walsh, Stewart's best friend. "It really says something about his character and what kind of person he is."
The senior quarterback, who has also committed to Okla-homa State, credited Stewart for living a good life to honor his family name. The woman who Stewart calls "mom" went one step further.
"Josh has a whole lot of his mom in him," Valrie Stewart said. "He's a very sweet person, a very giving person, a very loving person. That's his disposition, and that's all from his mom."
Forced from home
On Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf coast as a Category 4 storm, it hit the city of New Orleans harder than anywhere else, submerging close to 180,000 homes under water.
That included Stewart's home in the St. Bernard Parish, as well as many of his family members' homes.
But luckily for the Stewarts, they evacuated the city three days before the storm hit, not knowing that Katrina would end up being one the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States.
"We really thought we were going back home," Valrie Stewart said. "They closed the schools for a while, but we thought we were going back home. Then we found out there was nothing really for us to go back to."
Stewart, who was in seventh grade at the time, enrolled at McMath Middle School and acclimated himself to Denton after staying with numerous family members in apartments that, for a short time, had as many as 22 people in them.
"I wanted to get back [to New Orleans] so bad because I missed my friends so bad," Stewart said. "Then I got used to McMath and decided I wanted to stay and finish middle school. Then, I just fell in love with this place."
And the feeling was mutual.
The McMath football coaches told John Walsh they had a good seventh grader who he should meet, and Walsh obliged.
"His personality captivated me from the get-go," Walsh said. "He is just a happy kid. It's rarely you find Josh Stewart in a bad mood. It's rare that you find him in a mood where he doesn't work. He's always happy. He's always wanting to please the coaches and people in general. His teammates gravitate around him. You saw that at an early age. That's what you call a leader."
Stewart said he is blessed to have what he has in Denton.
He has worked hard and has subsequently been rewarded with a scholarship offer from Oklahoma State, where he has verbally committed to play receiver. That came after he had given a verbal pledge to Texas A&M back in March to play cornerback. He also had offers from Boise State, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, SMU, Texas Tech and Wake Forest.
Despite all of his success, Stewart said he still thinks about all of the friends he had to leave behind in New Orleans, with many having returned to the Crescent City.
"I have friends that are crazy athletes [in New Orleans], but they're just not getting the publicity I get here in Texas," he said. "It's sad to know I have those friends that are trying to do stuff with their lives and they can't because they don't have what I have out here. They don't have the coaches to send out film and everything else I have here. I'm so blessed."
Battling the odds
During the spring of Stewart's freshman year at Guyer, he began catching the eye of the Wildcats' coaches, despite his diminutive frame.
Then, when fall workouts began before his sophomore year, he started turning heads with his play on the field.
So when Guyer played its preseason scrimmage against Midlothian that year, Stewart was called up to the varsity team to compensate for some minor injuries Guyer had in the secondary.
In his first varsity action, as a 5-5, 140-pound cornerback, Stewart lined up across from Midlothian's Eddie Johnson, a 6-3, physical receiver who eventually earned a scholarship to Baylor. And Stewart shut him down, to the tune of zero catches.
"We put him out there on an island and put pressure on him," Walsh said. "From that day on, we knew he was a guy you could count on and he'd never be a mismatch for anyone."
Not much changed once the regular season started, and Stewart won a job as a starting cornerback for a Guyer team that broke through with a 12-3 record and a state semifinal appearance.
Stewart was often picked on by opposing quarterbacks, but they rarely won.
He led the team as a sophomore with 23 pass breakups and had two interceptions while playing bigger than his size with 58 tackles.
"I think that's what made me the player I am now," Stewart said. "Everyone wanted to pick on me. I was a sophomore. I wasn't that big. That's what got me to where I am now. People always told me I was too small, but I overcame that stuff. It didn't bother me. It was just fuel to my fire."
Now, Stewart is a solid 5-10 and 165 pounds and is beginning to make his presence felt in just about every way possible.
After a run of success in 7-on-7 tournament play during the summer, Walsh knew Stewart was ready to contribute some on the other side of the ball as a senior.
"We knew he'd probably help us in certain situations, and I really thought it'd be in the fourth quarter of ballgames when we just want our best players on the field," Walsh said.
Instead, since the Wildcats' fifth game of the year - a loss to Coppell - Stewart has not seen much time on the sideline.
Aside from being one of the best cornerbacks in the state, Stewart has also racked up 833 receiving yards on 44 grabs and scored eight offensive touchdowns, enough to earn the late offer from Oklahoma State on Tuesday night to play slot receiver. Not to mention the fact he plays on every special-teams unit except field goals.
"I didn't think it'd be from the first minute to the last minute," Walsh said. "And I would've never envisioned him being a 1,000-yard receiver like he's got a chance to be."
Never have Stewart's talents been more evident than in the Wildcats' third-round playoff win over Abilene Cooper on Nov. 27.
Stewart caught a touchdown pass from Walsh, returned a punt 50 yards for a touchdown, and watched as one of his two interceptions quickly set up a third Guyer touchdown in a span of just 4 minutes and 22 seconds.
"I feel like the bigger the game is, the higher level I play at," Stewart said. "That's how I go at it. Of course, even if we play a not-too-great team, I'm still gonna play hard, but if we play a really good team, it gets ramped up a little."
And there's more than one piece of evidence to support Stewart's theory.
Last season, in the Wildcats' 28-25 regional final win over crosstown foe Ryan, Stewart blocked a field goal, blocked an extra point, and returned an interception 72 yards to the end zone to get Guyer to its second straight state semifinal.
"To be a kid that, in big moments, makes those game-changing plays and you do it often, you've got to have a lot of confidence in yourself," Walsh said. "And you get that from hard work. That's a rare breed."
A dream come true
Back in March, Stewart gave his verbal pledge to Texas A&M to play cornerback.
He was solid in his commitment to the Aggies, and was thought by many recruiting analysts to be one of the most committed recruits the Aggies had in their class.
But oral commitments are non-binding for a reason, and Stewart had a dream in the back of his mind.
"For a while, I was all A&M," Stewart said. "I wasn't gonna de-commit for anyone but OSU. I just knew OSU wasn't gonna offer me. I kept looking at A&M, and I wasn't worried about OSU anymore. But now that they offered me, I couldn't pass it up. It's my dream school. I get to play with my best friend. It doesn't get any better."
But first thing's first.
The Wildcats will have their third straight shot to reach a state championship game on Saturday when they face Long-view, the team that has ended their season in the previous two years, in this same round, when both teams were in Class 4A.
Stewart said the team is as focused as it could be, not on finally getting past the Lobos on its third try, but on playing in Cowboys Stadium next Satur-day in the Class 5A Division II state championship game against either Cibolo Steele or Houston Memorial.
"We want that ring so bad," Stewart said. "I'm gonna do whatever I can for my team to get that ring and everyone else will do the same."
J.W. Walsh said he would like nothing more than for Stewart to reap the benefits of his hard work with a state championship win in what would be the final game for both as high school football players.
After all, it's Stewart who has shown Walsh, and many other Guyer teammates, how to overcome true adversity.
"When you think about what he's been through, you take a step back and realize how lucky you have it," Walsh said. "Me personally, I've been blessed with a lot and Josh has done an incredible job of blessing himself. With everything he has been through in the past, you definitely wouldn't be able to tell with the smile he has on his face, that's for sure."
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .