JACKSON COUNTY senior Nick Oney will get the chance to study engineering and play four more years of football and do it less than four hours away from home.
Oney has signed a college scholarship with Division III Birmingham Southern, becoming the 12th Panther in the last four years to sign with a collegiate program.
“Financially and distance-wise, we decided that would be the best choice,” Oney said of Birmingham Southern.
Oney, who wants to major in engineering, selected Birmingham Southern over Emory and Henry, Maryville and Averett.
The four-year starter played linebacker and defensive back at Jackson County but thinks he may fit in as a safety at Birmingham Southern. Since his coaches at Birmingham Southern won’t have access to him over the summer per Division III rules, Oney will be on his own in the next few months to condition himself for the transition to college football.
“This summer I’ll have to do my own thing,” Oney said. “Run on my own, and come over to the high school a lot and get conditioning in.”
For Jackson County coach Billy Kirk, watching Oney sign a scholarship is gratifying since Oney is part of a senior class that helped Jackson County win eight games over the last two years – a marked improvement from the previous 10 seasons.
“They’re the group that paved a road for our kids,” Kirk said. “It’s great to be able to see these kids grow up and to be able to see a class of people go for four years and watch that one mature literally from the eighth grade. I got to see those kids in the eighth grade. And for me as a head football coach, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about producing good citizens. It’s about producing good men. And it’s a testament to his parents, it’s a testament to him and the work ethic that he showed. And it’s fixing to payoff for him.”
Getting players to the next level is a big point of pride for the Panther program, Kirk said. The coach notes that Jackson County’s video coordinator, Mike Engel, has probably sent out at least 1,000 DVDs to college coaches around the country in hopes of spreading the word about Jackson County players.
“We’re blessed to have that many kids (12) who’ve done this,” said Kirk, who praised his staff for their efforts in contacting college programs. “I’m tickled to death as a football coach to give that opportunity. It just joys my heart.”
Kirk also projects Oney as a free safety or strong safety at the collegiate level, noting his football smarts and savvy.
“As he matures and gets stronger and gets faster, I think he’ll be a good college safety,” Kirk said.