Cougars’ freshman All-America safety Stewart ‘hungry for more’

HOUSTON — Things don’t always work out the way they are planned on the football field.

Last season, University of Houston true freshman Trevon Stewart was thrown into the fire against No. 22 UCLA.

The former Patterson High School standout was starting his first collegiate game in front of more than 50,000 fans at the Rose Bowl in a position he had never played.

All Stewart did was finish the day with a game-high 16 tackles.

Six games later, Stewart compiled 21 tackles against East Carolina — the most by any nonsenior in the nation during 2012.

Recruited as a cornerback after earning all-state honors as a high school running back, Stewart finished 2012 with a new title: freshman All-America safety.

“I set some goals for myself before I left for college,” Stewart said. “One of them was to earn freshman All-American. A lot of people laughed at me, but I got it.

“I just started working really hard when I got here in the fall, and it carried into the season. It kind of surprised me a little bit, but now I’m just hungry for more.”

That more begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, when the Cougars kick off the 2013 season against Southern at Reliant Stadium.

Stewart will be in familiar company, having played with and against several Southern players.

“I love playing in games like this,” Stewart said. “I grew up with a lot of those guys. I have a lot of friends and family that are going to be coming to the game. A lot of people I grew up with have been talking trash.”

Stewart was recruited by Southern during his sophomore year at Patterson and was later offered scholarships at just about every school in Louisiana.

The 5-foot-9, 192-pound Stewart decided to sign with the Cougars and secondary coach Zach Spavital.

“He’s a great kid, and he comes from a great family,” Spavital said. “I knew he was versatile and could play lots of positions, but I didn’t necessarily know he was going to be a freshman All-American at safety.”

Putting Stewart at safety was not the Cougars’ original plan, however.

“We brought him in as a corner, and he was playing nickel, but we felt we needed to get him on the field,” Spavital said. “From that point on, he’s just getting more and more comfortable.

“He just has a natural ability of making plays. He’s very instinctive and it’s exciting to watch.”

Stewart led all freshmen nationally with 126 tackles and was named to the Conference USA all-freshman team.

He started the Cougars’ final 10 games and recorded double-digit tackles in six of them.

During his 21-tackle performance at East Carolina, Stewart even caught himself by surprise.

“Honestly, I thought I started off kind of slow,” Stewart said. “After the game, one of the coaches came up to me and asked how many tackles I had. I said, ‘I think three or four.’ He said, ‘No, you got 21’. I was like ‘wow.’”

Stewart recorded his first career interception against Tulane and broke up seven passes on the year. He also had 3.5 tackles for a loss and a 10-yard sack.

Now with a full year at safety under his belt, Stewart will be counted on even more as Houston returns only four defensive starters.

“He has been able to polish himself as a safety since last season,” Spavital said. “He just needs to continue to get the knowledge of the game down.

“If he can further develop that, I think he can be extremely good. It’s all based on him.”

For Stewart, there is no better opponent to get that process started against than Southern.

“I’m just excited to get out there and play,” Stewart said. “I just need to keep working hard and getting better, and hope that translates on the field.”