The holidays are all about giving thanks for what we have, no matter what that may be. For Denton (Texas) Guyer High senior Josh Stewart, this is the time to give thanks for simply being healthy and alive.
The Texas teenager has overcome more in 17 years than most people go through in a lifetime. Stewart's mother and brother were killed in a tragic car accident when the Guyer star was just 6 months old, and his father died of a gunshot wound just five years later. The infant Stewart was taken in by his grandmother, who has raised him throughout his life, but they were forced to flee their home in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
"I remember it pretty well," Stewart told the Denton Record-Chronicle of the shot that killed his father. "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."
According to the Record-Chronicle, all those trials have tested Stewart's resolve, but never slowed his determination to succeed. As a senior, Stewart started at wide receiver, defensive back and on special teams for the state runners-up, nearly capping his high school career with a Texas Class 5A Division II title.
"My [grandmother] always told me I'm blessed," Stewart told the Record-Chronicle. "There's so much I'm blessed with. ...There's no reason I shouldn't be happy. I'm still here."
The football star's effervescence is palpable, and his attitude has made his coach one of his biggest advocates. Guyer head coach John Walsh insists that Stewart is among the greatest players he's ever worked with, his commitment to success setting him apart from other teens who have yet to experience the struggles Stewart has already risen above.
"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." [...]
"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."
Stewart does feel he's developed a knack for rising to the occasion in big games, a trait that may be connected to his ability to shut out past problems to focus on the moment.
"I feel like the bigger the game is, the higher level I play at," Stewart told the Record-Chronicle. "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."
He'll have plenty of opportunities to get ramped up at the next level, where he'll be playing at Oklahoma State with Denton Guyer quarterback J.W. Walsh, Stewart's best friend. The college scholarship has fulfilled Stewart's dream, giving him a chance to move on to even bigger goals.
His grandmother is sure no matter what those goals entail, Stewart will reach them.
"Words can't really explain how proud I am of him," Valerie Stewart told the Record-Chronicle. "I just knew Josh was always a special person, and I always felt something good was gonna come out of everything."
- Josh Stewart