Special teams freshman adds flair to the field
“Simba,” the Swahili word for lion, serves as a nickname for a Houston defender on special teams whose competitive ferocity and long blond mane carry uncanny similarities to the African predator.
Freshman Grant Stuard’s road to Houston is as complex as the reasoning behind his five-year hiatus from visiting a barbershop. The Texas native grew up just 45 minutes north of Houston, where he attended Oak Ridge High School. After an impressive multi-sport career, the charismatic defender received offers to play football at the collegiate level.
SMU sent Stuard one of those offers, but when he attempted to commit, the coaches informed him that there were no spots available. With only two weeks remaining until National Signing Day, the defensive back signed non-publicly with Yale but received an offer from Houston shortly after.
“The Yale coaches told me if I took the Houston visit that my offer would be taken off the table. But it was Houston… I had to,” Stuard said. “So, I took the visit, and I really enjoyed it.”
The visit went well, but Stuard wasn’t fully convinced. So naturally, he left the decision up to his jump shot.
“I actually de-committed then committed over a game of HORSE,” Stuard said.
Stuard was playing HORSE at an indoor basketball court with a couple of friends when he made a bet that if he lost at the game he would have to commit to UH. His jumper may need some fine tuning, because the freshman committed with Houston after the contest.
The safety’s physical appearance and style of play landed him the nickname Simba, which was given by senior defensive end Nick Thurman. Ferocious, cunning and always fast, the stout 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pound special teams player prides himself on defensive tenacity and being able to reach the ball quickly.
“The biggest thing I try to emphasize in my play is my speed,” Stuard said. “I have to make sure I use my speed and my effort, you know? It can get you to make a lot of plays.”
Stuard’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed by head coach Major Applewhite, who confirmed his young defender’s claims.
“He plays and practices with great effort,” Applewhite said. “If you give great effort, play hard and you’re a physical football player, you’re going to have a place on our football team”
Pride on the field
Special team units are unique. They step foot on the field once every blue moon and can serve as a stepping stone for players looking to establish a role on their respective teams. For now, it is the only playing time Stuard receives.
“The few reps I get, I want to make something of them,” Stuard said. “I don’t want to just be on the field because I’m not redshirting. I want to make something of this year.”
The freshman has recorded two assisted tackles in five games this season. While these numbers may not jump off the page, Stuard finds a way to impact the game in ways that can’t be quantified or tallied on a stat line.
Pride is a term used to describe the social circles formed by lions. The African cats are unique in this aspect, being the only of its species to form these groups.
Stuard also hunts in a pack known as the special teams unit. But Stuard’s pride is his own, and he carries it with him each time he steps onto the field.
“He has tremendous pride as an athlete,” Applewhite said. “He’s very competitive. No matter what you ask him to do, whether it’s being on defense, punt team, kickoff return team, kickoff coverage or punt return, he just takes tremendous pride in his assignment.”
Style on special teams
Stuard’s self-proclaimed “fro” that reaches the mid of his back is more than just a fashion motif. Instead, the mane serves as a commemorative tribute to an aunt who passed away during his childhood.
“My aunt was like, ‘You should grow it out. You would look so good if you grow it out.’ But it would get to that awkward stage, and I would always cut it off,” Stuard said. “I think it was fifth grade when my aunt passed away, so when I grew my hair out again, it reminded me. I started thinking of her, and ever since then, it’s just become my trademark or style, and it looks cool on the field.”
The freshman also credited players and coaches who have helped him transition to the college level.
“My biggest mentor right now is probably Coach (Dan) Carrel,” Stuard said. “He’s pretty much taken over and helped me a lot with academics … making sure I’m where I need to be on time, because growing up I didn’t have much structure, so coming here was a big change.”
The freshman defender has the unique opportunity of playing with a talented defense that includes defensive tackle Ed Oliver and safety Garrett Davis. Playing and practicing among some of college football’s best has given Stuard a template for success.
“Those types of people make it easier as a defense,” Stuard said. “If there are leaders doing great things, you can easily follow behind them, and naturally you’ll do the same things they do. It lets me know I can be as great as them, because I see them every day like normal people. So, as long as I give the same amount of effort, there’s always that possibility of being a great player.”