ARGYLE — There’s been only one time when Argyle junior Hunter Stewart has jumped offsides this season.
It was late in Argyle’s 44-13 win over Kennedale on Sept. 21. Stewart was lined up on defense, hovering over the ball and seething with anger at the Kennedale center for repeatedly knocking Stewart down throughout the contest.
Stewart prematurely jumped up from his crouch before the ball was snapped and hit the center, drawing a five-yard penalty on Argyle.
Other than that play, the backup nose guard has waited for the snap. His resolve stems partly from his discipline and partly from how he’s wired.
Stewart has 50 percent hearing capacity in each of his ears — a hearing impairment he’s had since birth.
When Argyle plays Gilmer in the Class 3A Division II regional semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday, Stewart will carry his nearly penalty-free record and the disability he’s turned into one of his greatest assets with him into the game.
Like the rest of the Argyle defense, he’ll depend on the big boards coaches hold up that resemble oversized playing cards to get the plays. And like he’s done all his life, he’ll turn his impairment into a positive.
“I don’t want to mess up,” Stewart said. “Even though when I mess up, I can make an excuse like, ‘I didn’t hear it. What are you going to do about it?’”
As Stewart finished that sentence, he turned his palms outward and flashed a huge grin, displaying a personality that has endeared him to the Argyle community.
Stewart moved to Argyle just in time to start kindergarten — and meet Sam Sizelove.
“I really liked him,” Sizelove, now a junior linebacker, said of his first impression of Stewart. “He was a lot of fun. The hearing didn’t really bother me back then, and it hasn’t bothered me ever because we’ve been such good friends and he’s been really nice to me my whole life.”
Sizelove is one of the main reasons Stewart will be wearing his No. 64 jersey against Gilmer, a team Argyle’s knocked out of the playoffs the last two seasons.
Sizelove and Stewart’s father, Tommy Stewart, coaxed Hunter into playing football in middle school.
“I’m glad he made me [play] because it’s taught me a lot of lessons in life: to take leadership, responsibility, hard work,” Hunter Stewart said.
Those attributes have kept Stewart in Argyle’s rotation on the defensive line, where he has accumulated 19 tackles, two fumble recoveries and one tackle for a loss.
Friends can follow him on Twitter at @halfdeafstud. Online, he might describe one of his pet peeves — when people say something, he doesn’t hear it and he asks them to repeat it, and they reply with “Ahh, never mind.”
“I want to know what they’re talking about, what they’re trying to say to me,” Stewart said. “And then they just blow it off. But if it’s important stuff, I’m sure they’ll repeat it.”
For the last year, the self-proclaimed “half-deaf stud” has been without the half of his parents he was closest with. His mother, Joy Stewart, died in January 2011 after what Hunter said was a yearlong battle with a brain tumor.
Joy Stewart, a real estate agent, was very involved in the school district and entrenched in Stewart’s life, Argyle head coach Todd Rodgers said. Rodgers said that when Stewart was in middle school, she would bring sandwiches and cookies to the football coaches helping her son improve.
Rodgers said there’s a plaza in Argyle’s gym dedicated to Joy Stewart.
The blond lineman said his mom used to talk to him about girls and the two went to the movies together.
“She was helping with me everything, even school,” Hunter Stewart said. “She would always talk to the teachers about my disability in hearing. She was a great mom.”
Rodgers said the community has embraced Hunter and Tommy Stewart and helped them cope with their loss.
“It was very touching how a bunch of families made a conscious decision to engage the father and engage Hunter in their activities,” Rodgers said. “It was a very inclusive type of mind-set, to wrap their arms around them. We have a biblical responsibility to do that.”
The way Sizelove describes Joy Stewart, she would have the same beaming smile her son frequently flashes. Sizelove said Hunter Stewart’s a giving person who cares about everybody and constantly tries to build up those around him.
Stewart said being partially deaf has made him try harder and play more physically. On rough days, he’ll sit back and question why he was born with the impairment. Then, he says, he realizes he’s here to teach a lesson.
“Everybody’s different,” Stewart said. “Everybody has a different disability. And we all struggle with different problems every day.”
And if naysayers say otherwise, Stewart probably won’t hear it. Instead, he might turn his palms outward and insist there’s not much you can do about it.
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.