MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Beneath the helmet is a mind and under the shoulder pads is a heart. They are what make Oklahoma State's Josh Stewart one of the very best at what he does.
The feet laced into the cleats run the precise routes. The hands inside the gloves pluck passes out of the air. Both are meaningless if strength and spirit don't propel him through the unimaginable events the junior's life has already produced.
"You've got to understand where I came from, the way my mom raised me to be positive about stuff and don't get down about stuff," Stewart said. "You can't spend your life being down. Take the stuff that happened and try to make something positive out of it.
"I have the talent to play football and I can use that as a way to get my story out and to motivate people and to let them know they don't have to stay down. They can find a way to make things possible."
Stewart's mom, the one he credits for the life-shaping advice, is actually his maternal grandmother. Stewart never really knew his biological mother. She and Stewart's older brother were killed in a car accident when Stewart was an infant. Over time, Stewart learned the details and discovered he could have been in the same car if an aunt hadn't volunteered to take Stewart home from church in a separate car.
He calls his grandmother his mom because Valrie and her husband, Charles Stewart, raised Stewart.
Stewart's dad was accidentally shot and killed in an argument with Stewart's paternal grandfather when Stewart was 5 years old. Stewart was there when it happened, and he could tell Valrie what transpired.
Years later, he is open to discussing his life and inspiring others. It wouldn't be so easy, so empowering for himself and for others, had Stewart not learned how to live with and grow from his experience.
"You think about it, it's my parents, but then again, God turned it around for me in so many ways and I'm blessed to be able to have done so many things," he said. "It's a blessing to be here and to be doing this. I know I'll see them one day. For now, I keep my head on straight and do the right things because I know there's no telling how far I can go."
Stewart is the Big 12's leading returning receiver, with 101 receptions, 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012, and he leads the Cowboys in catches and yards this season. No. 11 Oklahoma State (3-0) makes its first trip here Saturday to play West Virginia (2-2, 0-1 Big 12).
The game will start at noon at Mountaineer Field and will be televised by ESPN.
A year ago against WVU, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Stewart had one carry for a 46-yard touchdown and 13 receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
How Stewart, who was a longtime Texas A&M commit, came to star for the Cowboys is another extension of another hardship. He played his high school football in Denton, Texas, but only after Hurricane Katrina forced his family from its home in New Orleans when he was 12.