Everybody wants a piece of Tony Steward.
He’s the nation’s top-rated middle linebacker. All the best football programs are after him. And he’s one of the most physically impressive prospects around.
But none of that matters to him, not while his high school career is still going on.
The St. Augustine Pedro Menendez athlete is in pursuit of a state championship, but his team has hit a bit of a snag after dropping its last two games, the most recent coming last Friday when the Falcons fell to Jacksonville Bartram Trail 36-14 at home.
It was a game in which Steward lined up at wide receiver, running back, linebacker and returned kicks. But he wasn’t enough of a spark for his team.
Steward thought he’d pushed the momentum into his team’s hands when he took a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown off a reverse to cut Bartram Trail’s lead to 17-7 entering the second half.
That was Steward’s second kick returned for a score this season.
“Why teams continue to kick to him, I don’t know, but as long a they do he’s going to return them,” Pedro Menendez coach Keith Cromwell said.
Steward’s return didn’t do much to motivate his team, as the Falcons scored just once more in the game. Steward spent most of the second half on the the sidelines, but he wasn’t totally out of the game. Cromwell said Steward had the job of calling out defensive plays for his team.
“He’s a coach on the field,” Cromwell said. “He can see it and know exactly what to do.”
Steward wasn’t up for talking much after his team’s defeat. He shouldered most of the blame for his team’s poor showing. As a veteran, Steward said it’s now his responsibility to lift his team back up. Now is the time that he says his leadership skills must improve.
While Steward looks to motivate his team this week, he’ll still have to deal with the distraction that is recruiting — a price he pays for being so talented.
Making it easy for him is the fact that he’s already set his official visits — all of which will come after his high school season.
“Really, recruiting isn’t a part of my life during football season at Pedro,” Steward said. “You have to deal with it because I’m being recruited, but it’s not that important to me right now.”
He’ll visit UCLA Dec. 3, Florida Dec. 15, Alabama Jan. 7, Florida State Jan. 21, and Clemson Jan. 28. Those are his final schools, but he says FSU, Clemson and Florida are his leaders.
Steward is expected to unofficially visit UF this weekend for the Kentucky game and Alabama for next week’s UF-Bama showdown. Nov. 13, he’ll be in Tallahassee to see Clemson take on the Seminoles.
The early thought was that FSU had the advantage because he grew up a Seminoles fan, but Clemson and Florida have made up significant ground this year.
Cromwell said he sees Steward’s leader change almost daily.
Cromwell is pleased with how Steward is taking his time and is proud of the way he’s approaching the recruiting process.
“He’s such a mature kid that he’s handled it so well,” he said. “He shies away from it. He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like attention.
“He wants to make sure he makes the right decision for the rest of his life, and he’s going to take a hard look at the schools involved before he makes that decision.”
Steward is set to announce his college decision near or on National Signing Day in February.