Grover Stewart has already accomplished a lot in his NFL career. The 2017 fourth-round pick from Division II Albany State is a regular starter and important piece on one of the NFL's best defenses. He earned a contract extension a year ago, too.
But to plenty of football fans outside the greater Indianapolis area, Stewart is an unknown. And that's where his next goal begins.
"I want to have that Pro Bowl title to my name," Stewart said. "That's what I'm working for this year. Because a lot of people don't know me.
"But they're going to get to know me."
Stewart's coaches and teammates certainly know him. The 6-foot-4, 315 pound defensive tackle established himself as one of the NFL's best nose tackles over the last few seasons, contributing heavily to run defenses ranked second, seventh and eighth in rushing yards allowed per game in 2020, 2019 and 2018, respectively.
"Grover Stewart is by far the most underrated guy on our defense," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "Each year I could see him getting better. Last year, I think he dropped 10 pounds of body fat, he's running to the ball, he's disruptive up front and he's been a dog since Day 1. He's done everything that he could possibly do at the nose and he's just getting better each day.
"Hopefully he can continue to get better and hopefully one of these days he can get some kind of respect."
Zaire Franklin loves having that "big bully" up front, since Stewart allows him and the other Colts' linebackers to play with more conviction knowing he's absorbing (and pushing around) double teams. And, too, if an offense doesn't double Stewart and instead has a lineman climb to the second level — well, that's just fine, too.
"Grove's not gonna lose one-on-one," Franklin said. "So if you come block me, that's cool, the play's over. I ain't worried about that."
Stewart's focused on becoming leaner and quicker over the last few years, too. His daily diet is pretty simple — salmon, salad and rice for lunch; salmon, a piece of lamb, salad and rice for dinner. He also does some at-home yoga, too, to help stretch himself out.
"I recover faster, my joints feel good and I can go longer," Stewart said.
Defensive line coach Brian Baker sees the results of Stewart's efforts, saying the 27-year-old played with more explosiveness during training camp. And: "Believe it or not, he's even playing more powerful," Baker added.
And all the experience Stewart has (1,753 snaps in four years) is paying off with how quickly he can process information pre-snap and post-snap to use that power, quickness and explosiveness to his advantage.
"He's seeing all those things on the first snap," Baker said. "And he's disciplined himself — it used to be, those things happened and his eyes would go to the backfield for confirmation. Now they don't. Now he works in the direction of the blocking scheme, understand the plays are blocked for the ball direction. And he's already in there."
Stewart said he's felt his comfort grow, too, leading him to play freely without much mental stress.
There were full days during training camp where Stewart was the most disruptive player on the field — pushing the pocket and breaking through toward the quarterback, muddying up run plays and even intercepting a pass.
"He looks a lot faster off the ball," running back Nyheim Hines said. "Looks quicker left to right. For a guy that big to lose a couple pounds and just look completely different is real scary. Going against him every day is tough but seeing what he does on Sundays, I'm glad I go against him on the weekdays and not the weekends."
Earning Pro Bowl recognition is on Stewart's mind, certainly. But there is something else that motivates him: His eight-year-old son, who watches every Colts game and is starting to get it that dad's in the NFL.
"One thing I told my son, man, I will never get cut until I retire. That's my goal," Stewart said. "I'm going to keep playing, keep playing until I call it quits. I'm doing it for my son so I can show him you can do whatever you want no matter where you come from.
"… The motor I have, every play, I'm like, I'm not gonna let this guy beat me. Why would I do that? My son's watching."