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Next level players: Kelso’s Payton Stewart resets on recruitment, verbals to Oregon State

Once a Northwestern commit, lineman now verbally set with Oregon State

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 12, 2023, 6:05am

The past month has been a whirlwind for Payton Stewart, a former Northwestern University football commit who reopened his recruitment following the firing of head coach Pat Fitzgerald amid a hazing scandal that rocked college football in July.

The news was especially stunning for Stewart, Kelso High’s incoming senior offensive tackle and defensive end, since Stewart said Northwestern coaches discussed how they don’t condone hazing during Stewart’s recruitment. He initially committed to the school in May.

“It definitely surprised me,” Stewart said, “because they talked about how they don’t like hazing there. They told us all about that. It was definitely a shock.”

According to 247Sports, Stewart was one of four Class of 2024 national recruits to decommit from the program within 48 hours of Fitzgerald’s firing on July 10. Stewart’s reasoning for decommitting were elementary following what he called difficult discussions with his parents and coaches.

“It was mostly just because of the uncertainty,” he said, “and I didn’t know what was going to happen in the future.”

Stewart, one of six Southwest Washington incoming senior football players who gave verbal commitments to Division I schools this off-season, hit the reset button on his recruitment.

Nearly two weeks later, on July 22, Stewart verbally committed to Oregon State. It’s a school Stewart said never lost touch with him — a 6-foot-7, 285-pound tackle — even after his original commitment elsewhere.

“It’s such a good football program right down the road,” Stewart said, “and it’s something I really couldn’t pass up — so close to my family and friends here.”

While Stewart worked swiftly to get back on the college recruiting trail, getting there was a swift process in itself.

He credits joining Ford Sports Performance and playing for Team FSP for a boost in skill development. He’s up nearly 40 pounds since last fall.

Since joining Bellevue-based FSP in February, Stewart said he’s a better lineman. He also saw his recruiting skyrocket from schools as far away as Duke showing interest.

No two days were the same, he said.

“You could be training there one day and two NFL linemen from the Seahawks will come in and just start working and they’ll just talk to you,” Stewart said of FSP. “There’s an NFL player in there every single day.”

Stewart shared a piece of advice he received from one NFL player. No surprise, it’s about keeping up being a multisport athlete in high school. Stewart also is an all-league post in basketball for the Hilanders.

“It’ll help you forever,” Stewart said of basketball.

More known as a defensive end in the past, Stewart said he’s expected to see more time on offense. In last fall’s season-opening win over 3A Timberline, Stewart scored the team’s first points of the season on a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown and interception of Stewart’s career.

Nearly a year later, the moment is still a talking point among teammates. Going into the 2023 high school season, something else is a talking point for Stewart.

“There’s so many people in the (Greater St. Helens League) that are going places,” he said. “I’m excited for everyone else on my team to just get an opportunity to play against these top-level players that will go on and do great things.”

High school practices across Washington start Wednesday.