Donald Stewart was born and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He later moved to Hillside, New Jersey where his origin in sports began. Growing up in North Jersey, Stewart quickly learned how to be resilient and realized how truly hungry he had to be in order to assure his success. He mentions that moving from Elizabeth to Hillside forced him to reestablish himself and work for everything he earned. At the age of nine, Stewart got into sports. He managed to figure out that nothing will be handed to him throughout his journey; therefore, he was raised to work for it.
“John, coming up where we come from, I learned very quickly nothing was going to be handed to me,” Stewart explained. “In fact, there were so many talented and hungry kids it forced me to elevate my game.”
Donald Stewart’s Introduction to Sports
Stewart’s origin story to football was a bit unorthodox. His first love came playing a game where he wore a mitt and occasionally used a bat to hit. However, he begged his mother, Alina Stewart, to let him play because many of his close friends played. Eventually she caved. Prior to football, he primarily played basketball and baseball to escape being in the house. The Stewarts attempted to account for Donald’s future in one way or another. Whether it was academically, musically, or athletically.
While Stewart was exceptional at all three sports: basketball, baseball, and football, he found a love and passion for the game of football. In fact, in 4th grade, Stewart wrote a book dedicated to his journey as a football player. The title of the book, My Journey to the NFL was written purely based on his love of the game. He mentioned his commitment to Ohio State throughout the book. While he was unable to foresee the future, he was able to guess that he’d one day be great.
After a stellar outing in his eighth-grade year, Stewart soon began looking for private high schools to optimize his opportunity for success. Originally, he visited Saint Peter’s Prep located in Jersey City, New Jersey. He met with the head coach, Rich Hansen; however, Hansen seemed unimpressed by his film. Instead, he visited Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, New Jersey, and fell in love with the school. Shortly after, Stewart commit to Seton Hall Prep. But he originally went to play baseball, instead of football.
“My visit at Saint Peter’s didn’t go well, with Hansen not being impressed by my eighth-grade film,” Stewart stated. “Many may not know this, but I went to Seton Hall for baseball and I got to cut the first week of tryouts.”
While this hurt and forced Stewart to pivot his plans elsewhere, it seemed to become a blessing in disguise. SHP was ranked as one of the top baseball schools in the country at the time, so being cut from one of the top programs is a little easier to swallow. Yet, he didn’t allow getting cut to alter his career.
One of Stewart’s biggest takeaways from SHP was the fact he was able to find his confidence. He explains in great detail that during his sophomore year he began to really take off academically and athletically. Fast Forward, Stewart skills furthered developed and started on varsity his sophomore year. He had a phenomenal season and soon transferred to Paramus Catholic, in mid-April.
Stewart admits that transferring was a bit of an adjustment period due to the different styles of cultures. Originally, being in an all-boys school with predominantly Caucasian counterparts versus being in a mixed setting with boys and girls. The adjustment took time; however, he believes it was one of the best decisions of his life. When asked, “How did he manage the pressure and expectations at PC rather than SHP?” he responded:
“Listen, coming from a place that was rebuilding, instead of, competing for a championship was very different,” emphasized Stewart. “I was able to manage the pressure by my support system being consistent. In a world of change and moving pieces, the things that tend to be consistent are the people around you.”
He received his first offer from Temple University, while at PC. From that point, he never looked back and with the likes of other star players throughout the state of New Jersey, he was able to elevate his game. He believes they played a huge part in success because they would never allow any of their counterparts to fail.
“My support group never lingered and always held me accountable,” said Stewart. “They never allowed me to fail, therefore, it carried me through all of the white noise and distractions.”
Ultimately, in his senior year, he was ranked the 11th receiver in the state of New Jersey, according to 247Sports.com. He later committed to Stanford University after having offers from Big Ten, SEC, and ACC schools.
Donald Stewart’s Transition to the West Coast (Stanford University)
Not fond of the territory, Stewart committed to Stanford University and majored in science technology, and society. While he admits it was difficult being so far from his family, he reflects on how essential it was for his growth as a person. He became much more open-minded and found out more about himself as his journey continued. One of his greatest moments at Stanford was when he openly spoke about the importance of mental health on behalf of athletes to the school.
“One of most memorable moments, I gave a speech to the masses regarding mental health. Ironically, my young brother, Justin, helped me find the confidence to do this and encouraged me to take chances,” Stewart explained.
While dealing with tons of injuries at Stanford, Stewart began to doubt himself and found himself down a lot. However, he had one opportunity senior year when he made his first only catch of the season in front of his entire family. He returned to the touchdown and it sparked everything he once knew was true and he can still perform at a high level.
Then he graduated from Stanford and still had a year of eligibility. Following that, he transferred and played a grad year at Wake Forest University.
Inspiration Found Within his Brother Justin
Majority of his childhood, Donald struggled to channel his anger and love for his brother as he did his best to protect him emotionally and physically. However, as he got older, he found other outlets to express his emotions. He found a passion for music and art that helped him utilize these emotions in a much more positive light.
Justin Stewart was born with frontonasal dysplasia, and this left him vulnerable to a ton of negative repercussions growing up. However, the young man has elevated far beyond anyone can ever imagine. Stewart has been featured in fashion shows and has started a wonderful movement, “Smiling Within with Justin Stewart” at Snead State Community College.
“As a brother, I couldn’t be more proud of his growth,” Stewart elaborated. “He’s motivated me and inspired me in ways people couldn’t even imagine.”
One Last Ride (Wake Forest University)
Stewart expresses how grateful he is to Wake Forest’s coaching staff for believing in him and giving him a shot when he didn’t have much film gathered from Stanford. However, he recorded 33 catches for 388 yards and one touchdown, according to ESPN. Having an exceptional season, Stewart admits he’ll miss college football, but not for reasons many may think. Stewart admits that while the game was fun and fulfilled him, the most memorable moments were the moments where he got to spend time with his teammates at outings and they enjoyed each other. He loved no matter which team he was a part of they all were unapologetically themselves.
God is good! Thank you Wake Forest for the opportunity to receive my masters and play my last year of college football. I’m excited to get on campus and get better with my new teammates💯 #GoDeacs 🎩⚡️ pic.twitter.com/qkI3G250mM
— Donald Stewart (@Donald_Stewart8) February 5, 2020
While Stewart prepares for Pro Days all across the country for different teams, he understands and is open it may come a time he retires from sports. However, he will keep hope alive as long as he humanly can.
“While I’m open to the fact of me possibly having to hang the cleats up for good, I’m still going for my dreams,” Stewart stated passionately. “I have a small window to make the NFL, and if I shoot for the stars then maybe I’ll land on the moon.”
In conclusion, Donald Stewart is on the path of searching for great things and paving a way for others who don’t see themselves accomplishing similar things. Stewart offers advice to any young aspiring athletes or anyone out there that can relate to his story:
“Your attitude will determine a lot. Always remember to keep a positive mindset and attitude. Lastly, everyone brings something to the table, let your light shine bright, and be sure of who you are.”