Despite waiting well into his senior year before picking up his first scholarship offer, Ka'ra Stewart never questioned his ability to play college football. And if his chance didn't come, he was at peace with his future.
"I never got down on myself," the 2012 O'Fallon (IL) High Safety said. "It was just one of things where I waited for my opportunity and when it came to take advantage of it."
Stewart had a back-up plan.
"Before thinking about playing football in college, I wanted to become a pharmacist," Stewart said. "I'm still going to do that."
Until last week, Stewart wasn't sure if a college would pay for his pharmacy schooling. Then, the scholarship offers rolled in. Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Northwestern and UAB stepped up with opportunities.
What took so long?
"I guess they liked my film," Stewart said. "I'm not sure, other than that."
Maybe part of the reason Stewart flew under the radar was his transfer from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia to O'Fallon between his junior and senior years. His mother and step-father are in the Air Force.
Stewart (6-foot, 190 pounds) said Georgia Tech and James Madison were contacting him when he was in Virginia. Missouri stepped up with the first scholarship offer last week. The other schools followed in rapid succession.
"I always wanted to play football in college," said Stewart, whose first name is pronounced Kay-Ruh. "It was kind of a shock when I got my first offer. I wasn't expecting it at the time."
The scholarship offers coincided with programs receiving his mid-season highlight film. The feedback he's gotten from the college coaches has been similar.
"At the safety position, where most of them are recruiting me, they told me they like the way that I run around the field and how I also come down and help stop the run, as well as cover," Stewart said. "They say they usually find a guy who hits well or runs well. They said they like that I can do both."
Iowa under head coach Kirk Ferentz has historically found quality players by waiting to watch them perform as seniors. That seemed to be the case with Stewart.
"Honestly, I never got any mail from them, personally, to my house," he said. "The first time they called me, we talked a little bit. The next day, they called my coach and said they liked what they saw on film and offered me. I really don't know how long they've been looking at me."
Missouri watched Stewart at O'Fallon's second game of the season. He said he doesn't know of any other schools that have seen him in person.
Stewart ran the 200 meters and did the triple jump for Fork Union's indoor track team last winter. His top time in the 200 was 22.9 seconds. He posted a 4.57, 40-yard dash this past summer.
Stewart said that his mother is stationed overseas right now. When she returns next month, they'll sit down as a family and start the process of picking a school. He wants to visit all of the institutions that have offered him.
"I might go on one or two with my stepdad before my mom gets back," Stewart said.