In most cases, it’s a description no one wants. For former Houston linebacker Grant Stuard, nothing was sweeter than when he earned that moniker on Saturday.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the reigning Super Bowl champions, owned the final pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, No. 259 in Round 7. Whomever they selected with the pick would be dubbed the annual “Mr. Irrelevant.”
Pundits debated draft grades for each team, most NFL fans had long since turned off the TV and hundreds of NFL hopefuls awaited a call from just one team, any team. There would be no new hat for Mr. Irrelevant, no chance to strut across the draft stage to hug NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The Buccaneers decided on their selection: Grant Stuard, linebacker, University of Houston.
“He’s a very mature person, a very accountable person and a very accountable football player,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht told ESPN on Saturday. “Guys that can get through tough times and adversity — that’s a big box to check for us.”
The announcement of Stuard as the annual “Mr. Irrelevant” to conclude this year’s draft in Cleveland, Ohio, was the culmination of a lifetime of striving to overcome some incredible hardships he faced as a youth.
“My mom is a drug addict. … She used to work in the sex industry,” Stuard told ESPN. “My dad was in prison a good portion of our young life. Even when he wasn’t in prison, he was very absent when we were growing up. That results in both parents being absent the majority of the time.”
Stuard bounced from home to home and from school to school. Sometimes, he didn’t know if there would be enough food. He often found himself with the responsibility to care for his four siblings.
How did he manage to stay on track? Football, he said. And faith.
“For people that feel absentee from their parents, people that feel like their parents haven’t really been there for them, I would just tell them, honestly, that there’s a relationship with the Father that’s very, very real, that you can seek out, and that if you seek that relationship, He’s gonna fulfill that requirement,” he told ESPN’s Jenna Laine. “Whatever empty void that is there left from lack of parents or bad parenting, wisdom from the Lord and a relationship with the Lord fill both of those voids.”
Stuard, who notably wears No. 0 and draws a cross in eye black under his right eye for each game, said he hopes he can be a role model for his siblings, and that he can use his platform to help others going through similar obstacles. Particularly, he said, those with absent parents.
During his Houston pro day, Stuard raised money for Heels to Halos, a Christian organization that aims to help women who were involved with sex trafficking. Stuard asked fans to pledge donations for each of his reps on the bench press. His 28 reps earned more than $5,200.
Last December, Stuard organized a food drive for the Houston Food Bank that brought in 800 pounds of food, and over the summer he organized a school supply drive in his hometown of Conroe, Texas.
He’s also quick to share about his faith on social media.
View this post on Instagram
LORD your plans are greater than mine!!
— Grant Stuard (@GrantStuard_3) January 16, 2021
In announcing his decision to forego an appearance in last year’s New Mexico Bowl to prepare for the draft, Stuard thanked his Savior.
“I would like to thank Jesus Christ, the Lord of my life, for completely changing me and making me into the person I am today,” he wrote. “I want to encourage anyone who does not have a relationship with Jesus to seek Him. You will not be disappointed.”
Stuard was a team captain and a 2020 first-team All-American Athletic Conference player (second-team all-conference in 2019) during his four seasons in Houston. He even played a little running back with the Cougars, and the Buccaneers hope that Stuard’s versatility will translate into special teams excellence.
One thing they know for sure, however, is that their newest member doesn’t quit when faced with a challenge.
“No matter what adversity comes in your life, there’s always a way out,” Stuard told ESPN. “If you just keep working hard, doing everything that you can and everything that you can control and really keep the Lord’s will first in your life, I truly believe that you will be successful. That’s pretty much the mindset that I have day by day when I wake up, is just doing everything with everything I have, because I know this is the only day that I have.”
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