OH DUCK! Stewart decides to head south

<b>THE JONATHAN STEWART recruiting sweepstakes went south on Ol' Wazzu this evening, as the nation's No. 1-rated prep running back prospect ended an intense national battle for his services by choosing Oregon over Washington State. With a regional television audience looking on via Seattle's KING-5 TV, the Olympia star said he would be a Duck, no doubt sending thousands of crimson partisans off to dinner with a frown.

The owner of countless honors and awards earned over a storied career at Timberline High was succinct when asked for to name his choice. "I'll be attending the University of Oregon," he said.

With those seven words to KING-5 sports anchor Paul Silvi, Stewart ended the suspense that had built to a fever pitch in the Pacific Northwest.

Stewart was gracious, heaping praise on WSU and the coaching staff.

Stewart said several times that the Lord led him to his decision. He also said his mom was a big influence. Indeed, it is believed a major factor for Stewart's mother was the fact Eugene is an hour closer to Olympia than Pullman.

"It may not seem like that much to people, but that was a really big deal," said a source close to Stewart who asked not to be identified. "His mom just really didn't like the thought of driving that extra hour or so to Pullman. There were other reasons of course too, but that one was actually pretty big."

For his part, Eugene just felt like home to Stewart. "Snoop" had been leaning that way since his official visit to Oregon on Jan 6. He went down on a Thursday, one day early, because his participation in the US Army All-American Bowl necessecitated he depart for home Saturday night and leave for San Antonio first thing Sunday morning.

That Thursday, when he was the only recruit at Oregon, may have been key.

"He just felt it when he and his mom went down there the last time," said the source. "It just felt like the right place to him. He didn't fully make up his mind until today, the Wazzu coaches really gave him something to think about yesterday during the meeting. But he ultimately decided to go with the gut feeling he first had during the trip to Oregon."

Stewart said it was difficult to tell coach Bill Doba, offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller and the WSU staff he wasn't going to be a Coug.

"It was real tough. Because I mean all the coaches, like Levy, Doba -- they're all great guys. They're very down to earth. And the college experience that they showed me there was really nice. I have a lot of friends that go to Washington State."

The 5-10, 220-pound Stewart possesses a combination of size, speed, power and agility that had colleges drooling. He was picked by USA Today to its all-USA team and was named the state of Washington's Gatorade Player of the Year. His 7,757 career rushing yards is the all-time state record.

"I'm sure the Washington State fans are very disappointed," said the source who asked not to be identified. "A lot of people close to Jonathan, a lot of people, felt Wazzu was the best place for him and really in a number of different ways. But hey, Oregon is a great school, they have a lot to offer. And when it comes down to it, everybody has an opinion on this but the only people that it mattered what they thought were Jonathan and his mom. You've got to respect their decision."

Oregon beat out Washington State, Tennessee, Washington, USC, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida, Nebraska -- and that's just for starters. Virtually everyone in the nation went after him. The entire Pac-10 offered Stewart.

Stewart boasts a squat of 575, bench presses 350 pounds and has a vertical jump of 37-inches. But what is truly unique is his balance. The running back is simply difficult to knock off his feet, he just keeps motoring forward. Combines with his strength, it was a devastating combination over the course of his career at Timberline.

Verbal commitments are not binding, so it is expected Washington State and other schools will continue to show Stewart they'd love to have him in the fold right up until the dead period before LOI Day.

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