GRANITEVILLE — Midland Valley's Jeremy Burgess achieved what he called a “big step in his educational and athletic career” Tuesday. The defensive lineman signed to play football at Gray College in West Columbia. Burgess said he has aspirations of eventually attending Furman or The Citadel, but he said signing with Gray was a step toward his larger goals.

“I don't think I was ready automatically for a big college,” Burgess said of his choice to go to the prep school. “I think I needed more time to grow as a football player and as a student.”

While at Gray, Burgess will have a chance to gain valuable experience on the field and shore up his academics, as well. He'll maintain four years of college eligibility for when he makes the move to the next level. The opportunity was a major factor in his decision. His main area of focus on the field will be his speed. He's looking to shave some seconds off his 40-yard dash time and strengthen his knowledge of the game.

“Right now, I run a 4.7. By the time I leave, I want to be at the 4.5 mark or in the high 4.4 range,” Burgess said.

Midland Valley head coach Rick Knight said Burgess has a bright future ahead of him. The coach even lamented the fact he didn't have one more season to coach Burgess.

“Jeremy has been an upbeat, positive part of our team for the last couple of years,” Knight said. “He's always fired up even about practice. … I think Jeremy is just now coming into his own. Hopefully, this is a positive step for him, and like I said, I wish we had another year.”

Knight said Burgess spent most of his time as a Mustang on the defensive line but was admittedly a bit undersized for the position. Going forward, he expects the 5-foot-10 Burgess to be moved to linebacker in the War Eagles' program.

“His attitude is the biggest thing he's got going for him,” Knight said. “It's just a matter of where they're going to play him.”

Burgess plans to pursue a career as a physical education teacher and football coach after his days in college. He looks forward to a chance to one day attend The Citadel. He mentioned that he wants to follow in the footsteps of his friend and fellow church member Jordan Scott, who signed to play at the Charleston military academy last week.

Burgess said he'll miss his Midland Valley family the most now that he's off to college.

“It's not going to be the same because I grew up playing with these boys from Gregg Park all the way up through Leavelle, LBC,” he said. “So that's what I'm going to miss the most, the people.”

Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on twitter @EricJ_Russell.