Outside the Huddle has discussed for some time about adding an additional award for football season. That award would be for someone who the editors of Outside the Huddle deemed an ideal student athlete on the gridiron, one who really showcased the virtues we appreciate most in a high school football player.
Those virtues: discipline, work ethic and spirit were also three of the qualities most highly displayed by Clayten Stuart. A freshman football player at Bishop Dwenger, Clayten passed away in November of this year. It is in his honor and with the blessing of the Stuart family that Outside the Huddle is proud to be able to annually present the Clayten Stuart Award.
“Clayten arrived to practice everyday with a joyful spirit. I never saw him without a smile on his face. He loved being with his friends and he loved to play football,” Bishop Dwenger football coach Jason Garrett said. “As soon as the helmet went on, he was a tenacious, physical player. No one outworked Clayten; a young man of great joy and tenacity.”
When going through the selection process for this inaugural honor – with Clayten’s strongest virtues in mind – Outside the Huddle very quickly landed on one name: Brenden Lytle, the senior quarterback for the Bishop Dwenger Saints.
The selection was a no-brainer for the award. Garrett agrees as he thought over the core values associated with the award and how they align with Lytle’s presence in both the football program and the school.
“He is just an incredible human being,” Garrett said. “You couple that with being so athletic from such a young age, obviously there is pressure; there is expectation. And you put a helmet on him, you put a baseball glove on him or put a basketball in his hands, you aren’t going to find a greater competitor.”
To get to that point, it took an enhanced maturity out of Lytle. On and off the field, he has been wise beyond his years during his time at Bishop Dwenger, including becoming the Dwenger quarterback as just a sophomore. He has also had lofty expectations of him on the basketball court and baseball field since a young age. Lytle attributes that early maturity to both the rigors of life happening at a younger age and also the mentors he has had along the way, including family, teammates and Garrett.
“I have been through a lot in my life so I learned some life lessons and learned how to handle situations and not to get down, not to the wrong way,” Lytle said. “Having coach Garrett, he helped me out a ton. He took me under his wing and he’s been teaching me great ways and how to be a great leader.”
Garrett emphasized that the first things he thinks about with Lytle are things that most people don’t see, the young man beyond the helmet. Two years ago, the Saints did an event with GiGi’s Playhouse, which works – as their website says – to see a world where individuals with Down syndrome are accepted and embraced in their families, schools and communities. It allowed the Saints to have different special guests from GiGi’s at their games. Garrett says the people from GiGi’s just naturally gravitated to Lytle and vice versa. The same can be said for small children, including the son of one Bishop Dwenger trainer Kelly Grayson, who gets excited to play with Lytle any time he gets to see him.
“He is a young man that has one of the biggest hearts that I have ever experienced. He is an inspiration to me and many others,” Garrett said. “He’s a sensitive kid so on that side, he is very compassionate. Guys are hurting or with Clayten’s situation, he took leadership in that.”
Over the years, the Saints have had their share of quality quarterbacks, but nobody with the consistency of Lytle. He was the starter for two and a half seasons, transitioning from defense during his sophomore season and helping the Saints to a state title. Thanks to Sectional title wins, Lytle never ended either of his remaining seasons without a trophy. But it was that sophomore year move from cornerback, where he picked off three passes in the first two weeks, that really made an imprint on the field. He also was a kick returner and a punter before the transition to quarterback.
Lytle rewrote the record books at that position in his 2020 senior season, surpassing Kevin Merz as the top passer in program history. Lytle’s 4,964 career passing yards now sits second in the history of the Summit Athletic Conference behind current Bishop Luers coach Kyle Lindsay’s 5,271. But while Lytle appreciates the records and knows that will be a lasting legacy, he still hopes foremost that he left positive examples for future Saints.
“I hope I left a good impression for the younger kids and to show that anything is possible if you just put your mind to it. It is all about confidence,” Lytle said.
“He is out there to win and do it as a team. It’s not about himself. The accurate word is maturity. It is not a pridefulness or flashiness. Anything you ask that kid to do, he’ll do,” added Garrett, who has spent an abundance of time with Lytle as his coach in both football and baseball. He says he calculates that anyone who plays both sports for him spends about a full year’s worth of minutes with him as a coach.
“I’ve seen the tears, I’ve seen the jubulation, I’ve seen the fears, I’ve seen the frustrations and he just manages his way through it because he has such a strong will.”
One of those situations to manage through was Bishop Dwenger’s loss to Homestead this season. Looking to avoid any additional overtimes, the Saints and their seniors opted to go for a two point conversion. The ball, of course, was put into Lytle’s hands but he was stopped just short of the goal line, giving Homestead what was ultimately a conference title clinching victory. Yet immediately after, even while putting the weight of the moment all on himself, Lytle proclaimed loudly that “I wouldn’t want to get on any other bus.” Loving the school, loving the traditions, loving the guys around him is something Garrett says Lytle left as a deep impression and a quote that will be mentioned over and over in the future: is there really any other bus you want to get on, win or lose?
Garrett will tell you, and anyone who has seen Lytle play a sport knows, he is always smiling. It allows Lytle leave an enviable mark on the program and the school through what Garrett calls selfless leadership. Lytle will be someone who is remembered at Bishop Dwenger as someone who is so talented, yet about everyone else above himself. When Lytle broke the program’s touchdown record this season and came to the sideline, he wasn’t even aware about it until Garrett told him about it. Garrett, who keeps candy to give out during the game as a way to keep things light and fun, handed Lytle two Twizzlers as his record breaking reward. When asked about his best memories by a reporter from the school paper, getting those Twizzlers was immediately Lytle’s answer; not the record itself.
“Some guys are so talented and it easily becomes all about them and they are worried about stats. Never saw that with him,” Garrett said.
It is clear that the impact others have made on him in his young life has made Lytle want to leave a different kind of impression on those he comes in contact with. It comes back to maturity; Lytle knows how important his experiences are and is quick to credit the people who have made him who he is.
“Dwenger is just a life experience and it teaches you so much, you don’t even realize it until your senior year. Dwenger has just meant a lot to me; I’ve never had such a great relationship with coaches and players. It means a lot to play for Bishop Dwenger football,” Lytle said.