Stanford wide receiver Donald Stewart made the extremely difficult decision in December to enter his name in the NCAA transfer portal. After four years with the Cardinal, he felt it was time to move on and seek a grad transfer to a different program.
That decision has come in, as the 6-4, 200-pounder told 12up.com on Wednesday he’ll be taking his game to Winston-Salem, N.C. to close out his college career with Wake Forest.
“I think having the opportunity to get my Master’s in a year, be closer to home and play big-time ACC football allowed me to make this decision,” Stewart said. “I’m excited for my future as a Demon Deacon. I can’t wait to get on campus.”
Stewart is closing out the semester at Stanford and will be graduating in June with a degree in science and technology, with a concentration on innovation and organization. Once he gets to Wake Forest, he’ll be studying either liberal studies or sustainability.
Demon Deacons’ wide receivers coach Kevin Higgins gets a major assist for helping Wake Forest land Stewart for 2020. The two have been incredibly close since the wideout was a standout at Paramus Catholic High in New Jersey.
“Even after I committed to Stanford, he was always checking up on me,” Stewart said. “We had built a strong relationship since my sophomore year of high school. He’d always make sure things were going well with me. To go out with Coach Higgins for one last year and be part of the Wake Forest culture is a blessing. I can’t wait to make the most of this opportunity.
“After I graduate from Wake Forest, my No. 1 goal is to go pro. I also want to use the tools and resources from Stanford and Wake Forest to create an academy that encompasses academics, athletics and music. It’s been a vision of mine, so I want to get to Wake Forest and get to work on that.”
Though he’s ready to move forward, Stewart’s time at Stanford did come with plenty of adversity. He played through a torn ligament in his right thumb for nearly two seasons, which he ended up having surgery on after his sophomore campaign. Then, during his junior year, the N.J. product suffered a hamstring injury and later tore a muscle in his hip, which required PRP surgery. He played in three games during that junior year before shutting things down and redshirting.
Then as a senior in 2019, Stewart, hoping to make a big impact coming off a RS season, played in just five games and only had one target, a touchdown against Cal in the second-to-last week of the season. This all came after playing in 24 games between his true freshman and sophomore years.
“It was definitely something tough for me to go through,” Stewart said. “There were games where I didn’t even travel as a senior. I was dealing with the mental aspect of things and also trying to bring the juice every day. I’m happy I went through that, though. It made me stronger and helped build my character. I’m grateful I was able to play early on and then not play much as a senior because I got both perspectives. Now, I’m ready to get to Wake and help my teammates go after an ACC championship.”
Playing closer to home is obviously something Stewart is excited about as well. With Stanford being on the other side of the country, there were plenty of times he was homesick and missed his parents Donald and Alina, brothers Justin and Jordan, and his sister Victoria.
Add his best friend and former Paramus Catholic teammate Dyshawn Simpkins being killed in a shooting in 2017, and it all took its toll on the receiver. He opened up about that and much more during Stanford’s ‘GameFACES’ last year, an event which allows athletes to open up about their mental health battles on and off their perspective fields.
“It gave me the opportunity to share personal stories of how I dealt with my injuries, the death of my best friend and how that pushed me to keep going strong at Stanford,” Stewart said. “I also opened up about my brother Justin being born with a facial malformation and how my relationship with him means so much to me. It’s brought our family together. He’s a motivational speaker and basketball manager at Snead State in Alabama, so to be able to tell his story too was amazing.
“Just to hear feedback across campus on his life and my adversity at Stanford was an emotional experience. Students everywhere were showing me appreciation and giving me feedback. It was cool because I just wanted to be able to reach one person during my speech, but to see the connection we all had together — it was special. GameFACES is my favorite event at Stanford and I hope to stay involved.”
Stewart will officially begin his career with the Demon Deacons this summer, joining a program that went 8-5 in 2019 and earned a berth in the Pinstripe Bowl.