Josh Stewart has heard a lot of opinions about his NFL draft prospects recently, but on Tuesday he said the only one that matters is his own as he officially declared for the upcoming NFL draft following his junior season at Oklahoma State.
Stewart played his final college game Friday in the Cotton Bowl at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium and scored a 40-yard touchdown before leaving late in the game with a concussion.
By Tuesday, he had hired an agent and declared for the draft, more than a week prior to the Jan. 15 deadline for non-seniors to declare. He is the 17th non-senior wide receiver to declare for the draft. Last year, 29 receivers were selected over the three-day, seven-round draft.
“I’ve talked with a lot of people and everyone has their own opinions, and at the end of the day it had to be for me and my family,” Stewart said. “That’s what I felt would be best and the decision I’d be happy with. That’s really all that matters, and that’s what it came down to. I’m willing to take whatever comes. I’m excited for the chance to live out my dream. It’s going to be a good journey.”
Stewart is in line to become the first Guyer graduate to be selected in the NFL draft and the second Guyer graduate to be drafted in a major professional sport, following baseball player Jacob Rhame’s selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers over the summer.
Stewart graduated from Guyer in 2011. He helped lead the Wildcats to the 2010 Class 5A Division II state final before heading to Oklahoma State along with teammates J.W. Walsh and Jimmy Bean.
Guyer coach John Walsh said he wishes Stewart would stay in Stillwater, Okla., for one more season but said he will support Stewart’s decision.
“I’ll go on record saying this: I didn’t want him to come out early,” John Walsh said. “I wanted him to stay at OSU for another year. But there’s not going to be a bigger fan than me. Everyone knows how I feel about him.”
Stewart originally committed to Texas A&M to play cornerback before getting a late offer from the Cowboys as a wide receiver — his only offer to play on the offensive side of the ball.
Stewart’s past is well documented and full of adversity, most notably the loss of both parents at a young age and being forced from his home in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina before ending up in Denton.
He battled a perceived lack of size, which will continue to be a question mark as he prepares for the draft. Stewart is listed at 5-10 and 185 pounds and will look to fit in as a slot receiver in the NFL, following in the footsteps of players like Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Cole Beasley, none of whom were drafted.
“I’m confident that no matter what happens, if it doesn’t go well, I can battle through it and get back on my feet,” Stewart said. “There’s not much that can break me. I’m just ready for this process, and this is a very exciting time in my life.”
Stewart’s big offensive year at OSU came in 2012 as a sophomore when he racked up 1,210 yards on 101 catches with seven touchdowns, but injury and more depth at wide receiver in 2013 caused his production to dip after an All-Big 12 first-team selection as a sophomore.
He finished the 2013 season with Oklahoma State’s Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri and totaled 707 yards and three touchdowns on a team-high 60 receptions while missing two games with an ankle injury.
Stewart, despite playing only three seasons, finished fourth on OSU’s all-time receptions list.
While his offensive production dropped in 2013, he proved to be valuable in the return game, earning Big 12 special teams player of the week honors twice. He averaged 16.7 yards on 22 punt returns, good for fourth-best in the country, and scored twice on punt returns.
Stewart was named second-team All-Big 12 as both a wide receiver and punt returner.
Stewart said he received a fourth- to seventh-round grade from the draft advisory board, which didn’t have a chance to review everything he can do on a football field because he is a junior. He said he feels comfortable with the grade, and that he thinks he’ll go on the high end of that range, possibly higher.
“They don’t really sit down and evaluate juniors on everything you do. That’s what I was told,” Stewart said. “They don’t want to tell you a wrong grade, and from what I know they give you a wide range. That’s the range they gave me. I felt comfortable with that range because they haven’t had a chance to fully evaluate me.
“I haven’t done the combine or run routes one-on-one for teams. I’m very confident in doing those things. I was just ready [to declare] and decided to pull the trigger.”
Stewart said his 14-month-old son, Kayson, played a small part in his decision to leave early, but added the decision had more to do with the fact he believes he’s ready to take the next step. He said he talked to academic advisors before making his decision and was set to graduate from Oklahoma State in May 2015.
“It was a little bit of that [family concerns], but at the same time it was just a decision I made for what I thought was best,” Stewart said. “Either way, it works out. It was based off of me just wanting to make the jump and live out my dream earlier, and see what God has planned for me. I can always go back and get my education when it’s needed, and I know it will be. This is my time to just go ahead and make this move.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.