How The Courant told the story of high school defensive player of the year Graham Stewart's plans to leave Florida and come to UConn on May 6, 2012:
Former Xavier-Middletown linebacker and standout Graham Stewart, who played one season at Florida, told The Courant on Saturday that he is transferring to UConn.
"Man, you know what? I'm so excited and happy," Stewart said by phone. "This is the most excited and happy I've been in a while."
Stewart announced on Friday that he was leaving Florida for personal issues that required him to be closer to his family.
"It's something that's out of my hands," Stewart said. "It's something back home I need to take care of and be there for my family, help them out a little bit more, so, I mean, I just need to be closer to home. It would solve a lot of problems. I was having a great time down there, was doing really well [from a football standpoint], but some things are more important sometimes and you have to re-evaluate what you're really doing somewhere."
Stewart didn't get into what specifically drew him back home but he said his family is OK.
"Yeah, everybody's all right," Stewart said. "Everybody goes through their little struggles but they're all right. You know, I missed them. It was hard for them to come to a lot of stuff [at Florida]. I know it was hard on them."
UConn had been the top choice for Stewart, a Rivals.com four-star recruit, while he was going through an arduous process last year in which he checked in with The Courant regularly to allow readers insight as to how and why he came to the decisions he did.
The 6-1, 245-pound Stewart, who was The Courant's defensive player of the year in 2010 as he led Xavier to the Class LL title, wound up committing to Boston College. He never went. Not long after his commitment, one of his favorite programs, Florida, offered him a scholarship that he couldn't resist. So he took it -- a long way from home.
Stewart played in 12 games for the Gators, primarily on special teams. His highlight of the season came in the Gator Bowl. In Florida's 24-17 win over Ohio State, Stewart picked up a blocked punt and raced 14 yards for a touchdown in what turned out to be his final game in a Gator uniform.
Asked if he was happy at Florida, Stewart, flatly, said no.
"It wasn't about playing time or anything. I think just being homesick and stuff like that," he said. "I'm a patient guy. So it wasn't about playing time. I had some stuff having to deal with my family that made me feel like being up there would be best."
Normal NCAA transfer guidelines for a Division I athlete mean that Stewart has to sit out a full year. He would be an eligible redshirt sophomore in 2013.
The NCAA allows hardship waivers, however, which would allow the student-athlete to bypass the requirement of sitting out a year.
Stewart will apply for the hardship. Florida coach Will Muschamp has begun the process by sending a letter to the governing body of college athletics on Stewart's behalf.
"Graham has told me he wanted to leave to get closer to home due to some personal issues,'' Muschamp said in a statement. "Family always comes first with me and he needs to be closer to his family. I'm thankful for his contributions to our team and wish him nothing but the best of luck."
Stewart, the 12th Gator to transfer under Muschamp in his first season, has to write a letter, and UConn would have to write one as well, for the transfer to be considered.
The case has to be quite compelling, too, because the NCAA generally does not approve many hardship waivers. Still, Stewart said. "I'm hoping and keeping my fingers crossed" that he can play this season.
If he can't, he's still at home with three years of eligibility remaining.
"It feels great to be back home where I'll be able to have my parents at games, see them afterward, going out to eat with them," he said. "It just feels good, you know?"Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times