The player that almost didn't play: Stephon Tuitt

The last thing anyone expected to see from Stephon Tuitt in the season opener against Navy was a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

"It was cool. It was a cool experience at that time, I'm not going to lie,” says Tuitt, “It's a once in a lifetime experience that many wish they could have and I was glad to have it."

For a 305 pound defensive end, he’s pretty fast. Even the wide receivers are impressed.

"Stephon's a freak of nature. He can run with us. When we do distance running, he can run with us--he runs better than some of us,” said fellow Irish player T.J Jones, “I don't know how he does it at his size but someone blessed with some lungs and the ability to run."

But as they say, before you can run you have to walk. And it's a near half marathon walk that made Tuitt's football dream possible. As a sophomore in high school, Tuitt had a mandatory weight lifting session before the season. If he didn't go he couldn’t play on the team. But he had no ride, and his mom told him to just stay home.

Tuitt was determined to make it to practice and walked 12 miles in the summer heat to get there, "I really wanted to do it. I felt it in my heart. I said I am going to walk. And she said "You're crazy" and I was like "Yeah." After I did it, yeah."

And what was going through his mind as he walked?

"This is longer than I thought it would be. To drive it’s like 3 minutes, 5 minutes in a car you go like 60 but walking there you really realize that this is long. It was hot. It was the Georgia weather."

It was the first day of his football playing career, and a memorable one at that.

"To me to be honest I will always remember that throughout my life when I play this sport. That right there, I get emotional talking about it, it started everything" says Tuitt.

He has come a long way since then, and although he’s been blessed with a superstar physique Tuitt has earned his way to superstardom.

"Every day I wake up I think about it. Every day I wake up it’s a blessing. All this stuff that’s coming to me now is off of me working hard. A lot of people need to know that. It’s not given to you. You have to work hard."

NewsCenter 16 is there every step of the way with reports in every single newscast through the national title game.

Tune in to NewsCenter 16 Sunday and Monday night at 7 p.m. for an hour-long special leading up to the game as Angelo Di Carlo, Jeff Jeffers, Gabby Gonzalez, Chuck Freeby, Maureen McFadden, Barbara Harrington and Kevin Lewis will bring you wall-to-wall coverage from South Beach and South Bend.

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