By SETH STRINGER
Grant Stewart's baseball goals are pretty straightforward.
He wants to be a college starter. He wants to win a national championship.
He wants to make The Show.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound southpaw believes Northwest Florida State University, not Florida State University, affords him the best opportunity of all three.
Fresh off a Super Regional run with the Seminoles, Stewart visited NWF State's Niceville campus on Tuesday and — "after a little prayer and talking with mom" — Stewart called NWF State skipper Doug Martin around 2 p.m. and committed to the Raiders baseball program.
"I wanted to be a starter, and with the guys FSU had returning there wasn't much room for that," said Stewart, who also visited Gulf Coast State and Pensacola State. "My family and I got together and talked it over and I had to do what was best for my future. I had to make the right decision for me."
The 2016 Daily News Athlete of the Year found the right fit in NWF State, which will afford him both the opportunity to start and swing a bat that hit a collective .484 with 125 runs, 77 RBI and a .581 OPS in 80 games over four years at Paxton.
"I told him we hope he can do both," Martin said. "He's going to have every opportunity to come in and earn pitching time and hitting time. The thing that makes me confident he can do both is we saw it in high school. He's the complete package and brings both to the table."
Not only that, Stewart infuses a similar type of leadership that conjures up memories Dakota Dean, who transferred from LSU to NWF State for the 2015 national title run.
"It's a very similar situation to when we brought in Dakota and won it all in 2015, although obviously Dakota wasn't a pitcher," Martin said. "Dakota came in here and was a leader right off the bat. A coach can't always do that. You need a couple of guys willing to step up. Grant can be one of those guys. He came in here and said all the right things, so we expect him to be a leader."
Stewart excelled in his short time as a reliever at FSU. Three appearances in he had seven strikeouts, which included inheriting a runner on second and proceeding to strike out the side against Boston College in his third appearance. The flawless ERA ended soon after, but then came Stewart's first win after two scoreless innings of four-strikeout ball against Florida Gulf Coast.
"He contributed at Florida State and showed he could get guys out at that level," Martin said.
He ended his freshman season with a 1-0 record, 4.91 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 11 innings spread over 10 appearances.
"Being at FSU made me a better person," Stewart said. "They respected my decision to leave and said I did it the right way."
Through FSU pitching coach Mike Bell, Stewart's game become more polished as he switched from throwing on the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side and started locating his breaking ball for strikes.
"I felt like I was a good pitcher coming out of Paxton, but I was a thrower more than a pitcher," Stewart said. "At FSU, it was more about locating than throwing fastballs by hitters."
As for his current arsenal of pitches, he has a 12-6 curveball, a fastball that tops out at around 93 and sits high 80s, a changeup and a slider.
But Martin said it's his "ability to compete" that he loves most.
"He lives to get that baseball, to face that batter digging into the box," Martin said. "But obviously he can do more than just that for us. The beauty of it is we have a full fall of scrimmages so we'll see him at leadoff or early in the lineup (Stewart is slated for outfield) and how he responds."
And if all goes well, Grant?
"In a perfect world we return to 2015 and win another national championship and I get drafted," Stewart said. "But if that falls though I'll get back to a Division I school. Florida State is about as high as it gets so I've proven myself."