RMA's Stewart signs with UNC baseball
By PATRICK MASON
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Rocky Mount Academy senior Will Stewart signed a national letter of intent a couple weeks ago to play baseball at the University of North Carolina, yet Stewart made the decision final while on a mission trip in the Dominican Republic.
So on Tuesday, Stewart was recognized during a small ceremony held by the school that was attended by friends, family and coaches. He will join former RMA teammate Reid Johnston — now pitching at N.C. State — in the ACC as the Eagles baseball program is starting to produce Division-I talent.
Stewart, who will head to the UNC campus in the summer of 2019, will join a powerhouse Tar Heels program that is coming off a deep postseason run. UNC went 44-20 last season, including a 22-8 mark in the ACC, and advanced to the College World Series where it went 1-2, with its win coming against eventual national champion Oregon State.
“I followed them pretty good last year all through the world series,” Stewart said. “And I’m watching thinking that it would be unbelievable to be a part of that.”
Stewart, a catcher and third baseman, guided an RMA team that finished 14-4 and was stopped one game away from a state championship game berth. He did so on the back of a solid junior season in which he led RMA in hits with 20 over 17 games, and was the lone Eagles player to hit a home run. Stewart’s .377 batting average was also a team high among players with at least 20 at-bats.
He knows that coaches will always find playing time for those who can hit, and Stewart has embraced that philosophy by never straying too far from a batting cage. He estimates that he has swung a bat just about every day for the past two years.
“I would say it was 10th grade when I really focused on getting better, stronger and faster to get to the next level,” he said. “I have to be able to hit, that’s what gets you in the lineup. I haven’t stopped hitting since about 2 years ago. I’ve been hitting straight through the year, always working on my swing to keep that tip-top.”
The prospect of playing at UNC has fulfilled a childhood dream for Stewart, who routinely made trips to Chapel Hill with his family to take in games. His father, Jeremy Stewart, played for current UNC coach Mike Fox during Fox’s stretch as the head man at N.C. Wesleyan.
Fox coached at N.C. Wesleyan for 15 seasons from 1983-99, and it was there he coached the older Stewart, also a third baseman and catcher.
“I grew up going to Carolina baseball games,” Will said. “And we would always go and talk to (Coach Fox) afterward, so growing up I thought it would be really cool to play here one day.”
When Will went on a visit, Fox made sure that Will understood that his recruitment process and ability was a product of his own hard work and talent, and that he wasn’t just recruiting Jeremy’s son.
This will be the first time Fox will coach a father-son duo.
“He made clear to (Will) that he was recruiting you and not your dad,” Jeremy said.
Will had a busy recruiting process with around a dozen school interested in his services, and received offers from D-I programs like Wake Forest, UNC-Wilmington and Liberty College. But that UNC offer was too good to pass up.
“I just felt at home there,” Will said of UNC. “I felt like this is where I’ve always been meant to play.”