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May 4, 2012Tweet Follow @InsideTheGators
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The 12th player to leave the program since head coach Will Muschamp took over, sophomore linebacker Graham Stewart has decided to transfer following the spring semester and seek an opportunity elsewhere. InsidetheGators.com takes a look at Stewart's decision from a few different angles.
FLORIDA OVERVIEW: A late commitment for the Gators prior to National Signing Day in 2011, Graham decommitted from Boston College in order to give his pledge to Florida and play for?Muschamp. He immediately became a developmental player for UF at a position of need seeing as the Gators lacked depth at linebacker. However, Stewart spent the 2011 mostly as a special teams standout who always seemed to be around the ball. He played in 12 games as a freshman but amassed only one tackle over the course of the season.
CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Stewart's best moment in a Florida uniform came in what is now his last game with the team - the 2012 Gator Bowl. Just minutes after halftime concluded and third quarter action began, running back Chris Rainey blocked a punt at Ohio State's 45-yard-line that Stewart picked up and returned 14 yards for a touchdown. The score put the Gators ahead by 11 (following the extra point) and set the tone for the second half in what wound up being a 24-17 UF victory.
WHY HE'S LEAVING: Muschamp was likely in the process of completing his exit interviews following the 2012 spring session when Graham let him know that he was considering transferring. He said earlier in the week that he was not expecting any departures but obviously that changed towards the end of the week. Stewart told Muschamp that he wanted to leave in order to play closer to home due to some personal issues. "Family always comes first with me, and he needs to be closer to his family," Muschamp said in a school release. "I'm thankful for his contributions to our team and wish him nothing but the best of luck. He will always have my support and backing in the future." There are a number of options for Stewart to choose from in the northeast including BC, which is approximately two hours away from his home.
DEPTH CHART IMPACT: Stewart was listed as the second-string Sam linebacker at the beginning of spring practice mostly due to the fact that redshirt senior Lerentee McCray was sitting out the entire session while recovering from a shoulder injury. He was rarely mentioned by coaches or players over the course of the 15 spring practices, and likely would have spent most of his time on the field in 2012 as a special teams player with minimal looks on defense.
WHAT IT MEANS GOING FORWARD: Though Stewart looked to be making strides as a player, he is not a missing piece that Florida suddenly has to scramble to replace. Freshmen Antonio Morrison (who is already turning heads) and Jeremi Powell join the team in reserve roles, and the Gators already have four more linebackers committed as part of the 2013 recruiting class. Losing Stewart is not ideal, but it is far from a big deal as far as the 2012 season is concerned and frees up a much needed scholarship in the Class of 2013.