Football background helps Stewart on diamond

When Tiffany Stewart was growing up, softball was the furthest thing from her mind. Stewart was a gifted athlete and she had a different dream;,a dream that few other little girls have. While girls her age played with dolls, Stewart played fullback in Pee-Wee football.

“I decided I was going to be the first girl in the NFL,” Stewart said.

It’s not hard to see where she picked up the love of the pigskin. Her father, George Stewart, is currently the wide receivers coach for the Atlanta Falcons and was also an All-Conference football player for the University of Arkansas. Her stint as lead blocker gave her quite a reputation.

“Some girls tell all these stories about how guys kind of picked on them growing up, but I grew up with all those tough guys,” Stewart said. “I was the big bully around town.”

Instead of knocking around linebackers, Stewart is now picking on opposing pitchers. She leads the team in batting average (.371), doubles (9), runs scored (31) and is tied for first with triples (3) and home runs (4). Stewart has also stolen 12 bases this season and her 37 RBI are good enough for second on the team.

But it was not always triples and stolen bases for Stewart. Though she discovered softball early, surprisingly she did not take to the game very well.

“I was awful,” Stewart said. “When I first started, I really couldn’t catch and couldn’t hit to save my life.”

But Stewart’s natural athletic ability helped her pick up the sport and she eventually received letters from top Division I-A schools, including North Carolina.

Bulls softball coach Ken Eriksen remembers Stewart as a senior in high school.

“When I was recruiting her coming out of high school, I knew with a little fine tuning here and there that she would reach this type of potential,” Eriksen said.

The lure of the Tar Heel traditions and academics interested Stewart and she enrolled at UNC in the fall of 2002. As a freshman, Stewart saw action in only 43 games and she did not seem to fit in very well. Finding that her priorities were mixed up and her schoolwork was suffering, she was forced to reevaluate her college choice.

“It’s so hard when you’re 17 years old to make such a big decision like that,” Stewart said. “I got caught up in a few things outside of the things I should be concerned with.”

Stewart decided to leave Chapel Hill behind for more familiar surroundings, and she is confident now that she has finally found the right place at USF.

“Being at home, the coaches are awesome, the team is awesome, I just love everything here,” said Stewart, an Odessa native. “Not to say anything bad about the program at UNC, I just think (USF) fits me so much better.”

As happy as she is with the Bulls, the team is even more thrilled to have her. USF has gotten off to a 4-2 start in conference play and have won 11 of its last 14 games. Stewart has been named Conference USA Hitter of the Week twice this season, and it’s only half over.

It’s been a long journey for the tough girl originally from Little Rock, Ark., who once dreamed of being an NFL star. Between school, church and practice, Stewart has had little time to enjoy her recent success. But even if she did have a few moments, no one — especially her mother — could catch her reveling in it.

“My mom told me, ‘Tiffany, you’re doing well, don’t get a big head. You know what it’s like to be on top and at the same time you know what it’s like to be on the bottom,'” Stewart said. “I know there are things that I need work on. Each and every day, I strive to be better.”