When Ben Stuart began attending North Oconee High School, he needed to learn a lot of new things.
Stuart came to Oconee County from New Hampshire. He brought with him an electric arm that he hoped to use while playing for the North Oconee baseball team.
In December, Stuart’s journey as an athlete led him to a scholarship signing event where he officially accepted an offer from Georgia Southern. Titans head coach Jay Lasley spoke during that ceremony and said that Stuart got to that point because of all the things he wanted to learn upon first arriving to North Oconee.
“The neat thing about Ben was, as soon as he came in, the first thing he asked was, 'What do I need to do to be on varsity?’” Lasley said. “I said, 'You've got to work, you've got to get to the weight room, you've got to do all these things,' and we laid out all these things for him in that conversation. That's not the first time a player has ever walked in and said, 'What do I need to do to be a varsity player' or 'What do I need to do to be a college player.' The difference is most kids listen to the conversation and then don't really follow through with it. If we learned one thing about Ben Stuart over the course of his time here with us is if you give Ben a plan and you give Ben a goal, he will absolutely crush it.”
Stuart’s ceremony marked the achievement.
He was joined by family members, teammates, friends and coaches. Their support meant a lot to Stuart.
“I love it,” Stuart said. “I'm glad to see people come and support me, especially my loved ones. It's just a great time.”
Stuart said he dreamed of playing college baseball “ever since I could remember.”
The years-long journey saw him move to a new school, adjust to southern life and make strides as a pitcher.
It also resulted in several different scholarship offers.
Though he had his pick of college destination, Stuart said it was clear to him that the Eagles were his best option.
“It's close to home,” Stuart said. “It's probably one of the best programs I got an offer from. I just fell in love with the environment there and the coaching staff. I just loved it.”
Lasley spoke to the crowd during the ceremony and detailed Stuart’s time with the Titans.
The coach praised Stuart for his adaptability, saying the senior not only adjusted to a new culture in Georgia but also heightened his game with the North Oconee program.
“We've watched this little skinny kid come in from New Hampshire, just trying to figure out southern twang, what sweet tea was – all that sort of stuff,” Lasley said. “We've watched him grow physically, we've watched him grow as a person. I think his fastball when he walked in was probably around 81 miles per hour and, because of those goals and that determination, I think he topped out this fall at 93. I'm looking forward to next season and watching Ben continue his career.”
Stuart’s physical development, as Lasley pointed out, helped him gain the scholarship offers.
Once he gets to Statesboro, Stuart intends on continuing that growth and improving his game even further while he studies construction management or sports management.
“The biggest thing is letting my body mature,” Stuart said. “Just get bigger and stronger and perfect my craft. I want to make improvements along those lines.”
The reason Stuart is not done working on his game is because he’s got even bigger goals beyond college.
Stuart said he hopes to one day reach the pinnacle of the sport – Major League Baseball – and leave his mark on the game.
“It's only the beginning,” Stuart said. “I've still got a lot of work to do. I've still got to get better. The job's not done yet. I have plans of playing in the MLB, so it's just a work in progress.”
But first, Stuart has one more season to go with the Titans.
He and the rest of his teammates have talked all offseason about finally breaking past the Final Four round of the Class AAAA state playoffs, which was their stopping point the last two full seasons, and winning a state title.
Stuart said that remains the team’s primary focus.
“It's a state championship ring or nothing,” he said. “That's what we keep in our minds every day.”