Gators safety Stewart doing his part for DBU

Florida defensive back Brad Stewart Jr. intercepts a pass away from Tennessee wide receiver Brandon Johnson in the third quarter Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. [Joy Kimbrough/The Daily Times via AP]

The play of Florida’s safeties in the team’s first three contests left much to be desired, but there was a good reason behind the subpar showings.

With junior safety Shawn Davis sidelined with a knee injury, in addition to the absences of Marco Wilson, C.J. McWilliams and Quincy Lenton, Florida’s secondary has found itself depleted, thus thrusting inexperienced players into considerable action.

Although he arrived in Gainesville with all of the hype and regard in 2017, safety Brad Stewart Jr. didn’t see the field much in 2017 outside of special teams, although he did record an interception in Florida’s 36-7 victory over UAB.

But in four games this season, Stewart has seen a significant amount of action, and it’s not just due to Florida’s injury woes. Stewart’s eventual emergence was predicted long before UF’s secondary found itself depleted.

A former four-star prospect out of New Orleans, Stewart wasn’t expected to escape Louisiana. The No. 6-ranked prospect out of the Pelican State, Stewart was between Florida and LSU before ultimately committing to UF defensive backs coach Torrian Gray just several days before National Signing Day, and just 24 hours after his official visit to UF.

As it turns out, luring Stewart from Louisiana started more than a decade earlier with a wise recruiting decision Dan Mullen made while serving as UF’s offensive coordinator.

“When I first got into football, it was around the time Tim Tebow was here, when I first started watching on TV, and that’s when the Florida Gators were giving relentless effort and being dominant week in, week out, every day,” Stewart recalled. “Going into high school, when I got all my offers, I really knew where I wanted to go, but I still wanted to play recruiting and come, but this is DBU (Defensive Back University), you feel me? So I know that I needed to be here and make a statement and make a name for myself, and really come in, join DBU and keep the legacy going.”

Stewart played his part Saturday in keeping Florida’s “DBU” mantra alive and well. In the second half of Florida’s 47-21 win at Tennessee, Stewart added to an already dominant showing by UF’s defense. On the opening kick-off, Stewart made a critical play on special teams to keep the momentum on Florida’s side, forcing a fumble to give the Gators the ball back.

A career-defining moment for many, but Stewart’s third quarter was just getting started.

Two drives later, UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano looked deep and fired a pass intended for wide receiver Brandon Johnson, and it appeared as if Johnson had an opportunity to haul it in and put six on the scoreboard for the Volunteers.

But Stewart dove just in time, snatching the pass out of the air and giving the Gators possession on the two-yard line.

In just one period of action, Stewart had seemingly lived up to the DBU mentality that led him to Florida.

“We wanted to come out in the second half and be consistent, show that we’re still dominant. We don’t want to come out as slacking, as a team that comes out dry in the second half,” Stewart said. “So therefore, we wanted to come out and show that we give it a spark and get our offense back the ball. So I just tried to do my best and get the ball out.”

Although the Gators eventually secured the victory over the Volunteers with ease, plays like Stewart’s may end up as game-defining sequences against an opponent such as Mississippi State.

UF hits the road once again to face the Bulldogs, and Stewart knows the secondary will need to provide a similar performance if the team expects to escape Starkville with a victory.

Yet Saturday showed the Gators likely won’t have to alter the secondary’s mentality or objective — if the rotation sticks to the game plan and keeps making big plays, the result will more often than not end up in Florida’s favor.

And those depth issues many have pointed to? They seemingly didn’t show up on Saturday, and Stewart doesn’t foresee them being a problem moving forward into the thick of the season.

“Whenever we’re on the field, we know we’re only in for a certain amount of plays, because we know we got subs. And if we get tired, we tap and there’s no selfishness in our secondary,” Stewart said. “The next man steps up, everybody’s got to know what to do, so therefore I think the system that they’ve got going on, and how I’m being implemented is very good.”


  1. I love it when a guy plays well enough during a game to get an article, particularly one that was supposed to be a team weakness (lack of depth in the secondary – I cant believe the newspaper printed that one, and db play is not why we couldn’t tackle or block against Kentucky imo)! Offseason articles about having a good practice are good, but this is way better. Also, when a player does well on special teams as well as his regular assignments this is very important. Coaches come and go, these guys are why we are DBU! He has now joined a list of game changers at the position going back 50 years..I bet Steve Tannen et al are happy to have a new member in their club.

    • mveal. Just to let you know. Stewart missed an important tackle vs. Kentucky that allowed the RB for the Wildcats to break loose on a long run during that game. He also overran on the play where the Kentucky QB ran for the long TD and took a real bad angle on a tackle attempt that allowed another big run to occur. In addition, Taylor blew zone coverage that allowed the long TD pass as well. The safeties definitely contributed a major part in helping Kentucky win that game. But they have improved a lot since then. But it was a bad start in the SEC for DBU.

  2. Graham, I believe you got safeties Taylor and Davis mixed up in your article. Taylor, I believe , is the safety that injured his shoulder last season and was out most of fall camp with that injury. And WRUF reported that Davis was working out in pregame drills before the Tennessee game with a knee brace still on his leg as a result of his knee, not shoulder, injury. And I am just also wondering which safety or linebacker was responsible for not picking up the Vols’ FB or TE coming out of the backfield on the play that Henderson made the game changing tackle on early in the game? Big mistake on that play by someone. Was is Stewart, Taylor, or a LB? That cannot happen in the future vs. teams like MSU, LSU, Missouri, and Georgia.

    • It was 4th and 1. Everyone and their mother was expecting a running play. Tenn called the perfect play. One of the biggest negatives with Grantham’s attacking style of defense is, it opens things up for big plays if the right play is called to offset it. You can fully expect to see a big play hit or missed at least once every game. This defense doesn’t have the talent yet to adjust quickly, certainly not in the secondary. Pretty sure Pruitt knew he was going to bring the house and countered with the perfect play. Kind’ve hard to fault a single person for it. If anything you blame Grantham for calling the wrong defense.

      • Joe. No matter the call on defense, every player has an assignment and one of the Florida players had the assignment on the receiver coming out of the backfield. That assignment was not carried out on that play for whatever reason. You cannot blame the DC for that. And, like I posted, if the Florida safeties and LBs do not “adjust quickly” on defense vs. much better teams (starting this weekend), the Gators have very little chance of winning those games. And Grantham has already stated that he is not fully running his defense because the Florida players have not performing at a level in practice for him to do so. And that play probably shows that lacking of execution at this point in the development of the defense and the understanding of the defense by the Florida defensive players.

      • Not “everyone” was calling for a run play, I was yelling at my TV to cover the pass, so apparently I am smarter than everyone. I bet someone blew the coverage or made a mistake. It only takes a little error to make a big difference. Without the turnover perhaps UT would have gotten back in the game and made it like others too close at the end.

      • T-Gator, like Steve Russell says on his show (ESPN-WRUF A.M 850/98.1 F.M.), ”the other teams have scholarship players, too. And they practice, and make plays, too…” And while that was a great play call, it was a the ”relentless effort” by Henderson negating the play that mattered most. Hopefully in the future, an opposing T.E. won’t be ”so wide open” in the future, like you implied. But like I said, ”they got ‘players’ too.” Go Gators! Beat State!

      • Exactly, which is why the play Henderson made (knocking the ball outta’ the end zone), as he was the C.B. on the ”other side of the field.” But it was his great effort that made that play my ”play of the game.” Go Gators!

  3. Fantastic job by Brad Stewart !
    His play was inspiring all night. He elevated the entire secondary.
    The forced fumble was a game changer. The INT was NFL calibre.
    DBU is in good hands with Brad Stewart.

  4. One of the big pluses I see in our defensive backs and the entire defense for that matter, or good hands. That catch Stewart made on the interception looked like something a great receiver would was a fingertip catch, he then secured it and went down without the ball falling to the ground.