CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Unlike six other high school seniors in West Virginia, Morgantown wide receiver Blaine Stewart won't be playing football at a Football Bowl Subdivision school in college thanks to a scholarship.
Stewart will be catching passes for Football Championship Subdivision James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., this time next year. The son of former West Virginia Coach Bill Stewart nevertheless is an apt exemplification of the Mountain State's Class of 2013: full of talent, but needing to break free of the external forces surrounding it to be granted the opportunity to excel in college football's upper regions.
West Virginia prep players did that in significant numbers Wednesday, when seven players signed letters of intent to play at what is still commonly referred to as the Division I level. That group is larger than any graduating from the state in the same year since the turn of the century.
"To be part of the Class of 2013, with a lot of special players, I'm honored to be part of this," Stewart said Wednesday afternoon.
"It's been a fun process. It's been a lot of hard work, and a lot of not knowing where I was going to end up, but I'm lucky to have this opportunity for myself."
George Washington High School produced three FBS signees, the most of any school this year. The Patriots also had 2013's prize Mountain State recruit, two-time Kennedy Award winner and Parade All-American running back Ryan Switzer, who finalized his commitment to North Carolina in a ceremony at the school alongside teammates Dustin Crouser - headed to Charlotte - and Jordan Clay, who is bound for the Air Force Academy.
Switzer was inundated with congratulatory tweets throughout Wednesday, including a digital thumbs-up from ESPN anchor and North Carolina alumnus Stuart Scott.
"I just checked out some of hilights (sic) on YouTube. Dude can play ... bein a former wideout. Nice to see good ones," Scott tweeted late Wednesday morning.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound GW standout appeared overwhelmed by the outpouring of support he received, offering a simple tweet in response.
"Wow!! What an experience! Can't even describe! Thanks for all the love! The future begins now!!" Switzer wrote.
The trio of GW signees gave Patriots Coach Steve Edwards Jr. five Division I products in the last three seasons. Cody Clay (West Virginia) and Duran Workman (Army) went to the top level of college play following the 2010 season.
Like Edwards, Morgantown Coach John Bowers has produced his share of Division I players. He said that while the 2013 class is special, it should be more common.
"There is always good talent in the state. Players are working hard to put West Virginia on the map," Bowers said. "I could legitimately see 10 per year in this state."
Bowers' lone D-I product this season, Stewart overcame not only the stereotypical slights of West Virginia players assigned by many large programs - among them the state's lack of competition and lack of population - but a much more personal obstacle: the loss of his father prior to his senior season.
Bill Stewart died in late May last year.
"Blaine Stewart has overcome great loss," Bowers said. "His dad has laid the foundation, along with (his mother) Karen, to mold a fine young man. He is as good a person as he is a football player.