Hosea Stewart wasn’t yet totally convinced that turning his back on the troubles of his teenage years to embrace the discipline of the boxing gym was the right idea. That is until he received a message from Anthony Joshua.
Five years later Stewart became an intriguing addition to Joshua's crop of sparring partners for the world heavyweight champion's preparation to knock out Kubrat Pulev.
But more so, Stewart has become a personal project for Joshua to guide. Once a kid on the wrong path himself, Joshua knows how sacrifice can become success and is now passing this knowledge down a generation. In Stewart, he has found "a talent" that he "passionately believes in" but being fast-tracked to the top has come with major hurdles for the young heavyweight.
"It was eye-opening because I thought I was under the radar until the world heavyweight champion messaged me!"
Stewart had been going to a boxing gym for just three months when the message from Joshua arrived. Then 18, he was at a crossroads between the temptations of his old life and the ambition for something new.
"I thought: 'wow, this is serious now'," he told Sky Sports.
"I thought only people around the amateur circuit knew my name."
Stewart was born in Birmingham and speaks with a thick Jamaican accent - his grandfather and cousins had boxed, and they took him to a gym when he was 15 to encourage more fruitful activities.
The Firewalker gym in Wolverhampton was run by Joby Clayton who became an addition to Joshua's coaching staff before the rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr in late-2019.
Clayton calls his methods 'The Process' and Joshua became infatuated with it - he discovered the style through Ben Whittaker, a Team GB amateur and Clayton's godson.
"AJ was asking Ben if our gym had any good heavyweights knocking around," Stewart explained.
"AJ knew about me a while ago. When I went into my first championship final, he sent me a good luck message.
"He liked my style, he liked how I box, he wanted to see what I was about.
"AJ wanted to know what Joby's teachings could do for a heavyweight."
Stewart accompanied Clayton to a series of low-pressure training sessions a year ago at Joshua's amateur gym in Finchley. The champion and the novice hit pads, hit the bags and even did some technical sparring over the course of a week.
"I believe in my abilities but going to work with the two-time world champion? To hear him praise me? It's a big eye-opener. He spoke very highly to me," Stewart said.
But the ultimate compliment was yet to come.
An invite was extended to Stewart to join Joshua's camp for the fight against Pulev but there was one strict caveat.
The young man had to hit a non-negotiable weight target - an 18-month spell out of the ring due to injury had caused Stewart to gain too much mass and he readily admits that he wasn't yet living the life of a full-time athlete.
Make the weight, Stewart was told, and he would be paid like every other sparring partner - a list that included former world title challengers, current undefeated belt holders and seasoned veterans.
"AJ wanted to give Hosea a taste of what his own life could be about if he is willing to do the work that it takes to be a champion," explained Clayton to Sky Sports.
Stewart hit his target, made the grade and was among the first few sparring partners to join the camp that would culminate in Joshua demolishing Pulev.
Crucially, despite Stewart's relative inexperience he had spent five years understanding the methods of trainer Clayton, who was just one year into working with Joshua.
"It was good for AJ to see somebody that I've been teaching for many years," Clayton said. "Hosea understands the philosophies, the techniques and the tactics."
Stewart suddenly realised he was a vital tool in Joshua's education and said about the new style that the champion was learning: "It works for everyone if you do it right. AJ moved his feet and head well. He had an educated jab."
Things got very real when Stewart stepped into the ring with Joshua.
"AJ is very imposing," he said. "But as an up and coming heavyweight, it is good to test myself.
"Can I match him for speed? Can I match him for movement? Can I have a wrestle with him to test my strength?
"He would catch me with shots but I thought: 'I won't get caught by that shot again'."
There must have been moments of pain where Stewart was forced to prove his toughness?
"There were a few. I had to get stuck in," he laughed. "That's when you need to love the sport."
Sky Sports revealed the reasons why Martin Bakole, Gerald Washington, Christian Thun and Peter Kadiru were among the sparring partners recruited by Joshua. It created a special atmosphere.
"Everybody knew we were there to help AJ but there was competitiveness among us," Stewart said.
"It was business but we had a laugh too - there's no point in it being a gloomy place!"
Bryant Jennings, a former world title challenger and 13 years older than Stewart, was the chief prankster.
"He had the jokes and the stories!"
Joshua fostered a camaraderie among the group of hired help who whipped him into shape.
"Naturally he does carry a presence because the main focus is him. But he talks to everybody," Stewart said.
"He has a laugh before he starts his session. Nobody feels like an outsider. I felt like a part of the team with a job to do - I had to push him, I couldn't drag my feet.
"There are no egos in the gym. I was in the presence of a lot of great people."
Clayton added: "Hosea was working with the other sparring partners to get an incredibly privileged position, to see how a champion is made and forged. To see what it takes.
"Fair play to AJ who saw and recognised the potential of Hosea. He wanted Hosea to experience what camp life is all about."
Stewart's style under the tutelage of Clayton was a key reason that he was given a chance to impress on the biggest stage of his career so far, but maybe there was something else at play too.
Perhaps Joshua saw something of himself in young Stewart, Sky Sports subtly suggest.
"There are a lot of similarities," Stewart replies. "We had the same background in terms of our neighbourhoods and the opportunities that surrounded us in our communities.
"It's good to see that he came from that background but has educated himself, and now has a good team around him.
"He is a good base to build off for other young people coming up.
"I can take a lot from AJ's journey and add it to my own."
Much was made of Joshua's relationship with his mentor and former opponent Wladimir Klitschko in the weeks prior to the Pulev fight.
Joshua benefitted from sparring with Klitschko and ultimately ended the career of the man who he still calls for advice. He values the sharing of knowledge and has let Stewart into his trusted circle.
"I'm sure that is fair," Clayton says of Joshua's desire to help. "We all need to be inspired. AJ was inspired when he was a young lad coming through and now he is inspiring the next generation.
"He gives so much time and advice to Hosea. He passionately believes in Hosea's potential."
Will he be invited back? He has already pitched himself as ideal to replicate Tyson Fury.
"My style is all about movement too," he says with seriousness. "It's all about my jab and my head movement.
"The faster, the more nimble I am? That's the perfect prep for AJ."
Amateur boxing's Covid-19 enforced absence means Stewart is looking seriously at turning professional in 2021. How far he can go will depend on a number of factors but he has the best possible confidant in his corner.