In training for his state championship in the 2-mile, Nik O’Brien probably covered the 782 miles from North Augusta to Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y. That’s where he signed Wednesday to continue his competing.
Along with O’Brien, North Augusta had athletes sign from the football program, girls’ soccer and softball.
O’Brien considered Texas, Florida and Iowa State before deciding on Fordham.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I’ve worked a long time at this and I don’t see my career ending anytime soon. It’s a great continuation of that. I’m really blessed to have this opportunity.”
The cross country and track star still has a few events that he aims to conquer in his final season as a Yellow Jacket.
“I would say being a state champion in the 2-mile for 2013 is definitely an achievement that I’m proud of,” he said. “I would like to be track and field champion in the 3,200 (meters) this year and maybe even the 1-mile.”
Kaleigh Busbee, the third baseman for the softball team, signed to play at Spartanburg Methodist College.
“It means a lot, because I’ve worked hard throughout the years,” she said “I don’t have a lot of time off because I’m always playing softball.”
Busbee said she chose to become a Pioneer because of the coaching staff.
“The team is great, the coach is amazing,” she said. “He’s really family-like.”
As a freshman, Busbee is looking to start immediately, something she’s capable of according to North Augusta coach Derrick Quinn.
“She has all of the tools,” he said. “Excellent ball player and a really nice glove. Very strong arm. Swings a very strong bat. Solid all-around player.”
Joining O’Brien and Busbee in signing was Taylor Hurst of the girls’ soccer team. The midfielder is headed to Lander.
“It’s paying for my education and I love the sport,” she said. “I don’t think I ever want to stop playing.”
Hurst, whose final soccer season is underway, said she hopes to start immediately at Lander.
“I know I’ll be playing (at Lander) the first couple of games, hopefully I’ll start toward the end of the year,” she said.
Matt Sawicz, North Augusta’s head coach, called Hurst a “phenomenal athlete.”
“Taylor has been on varsity all four years,” he said. “She is already a three-time all-region player. … You can’t teach speed and she’s got plenty of speed. She’s worked really hard to be a good soccer player on top of that.”
From the gridiron, Ronald Williams and Willie McCloud each took the next step in their athletic pursuits.
McCloud, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards in his senior season, is headed to the University of Pikeville in Kentucky.
“It’s a big deal, I’m the first male in my family to go on to play football,” McCloud said. “It’s a chance to get a free education, so that’s really humbling. Pikeville runs the same offense that we ran and they have a pretty good program. They have a really good media program, which led me to Pikeville. I’m going to major in communications or teaching.”
McCloud, who shared the running back position with Williams, who was also an All-Aiken Standard selection at linebacker, called his teammate a great player and person.
“Ronald and I have been friends since fifth grade,” McCloud said. “Ronald is a heck of a player and one of the best people I’ve ever been around. He’s going to go far in life.”
Williams, who will be a Livingstone College Blue Bear next season, is excited to play in Salisbury, N.C.
“It means a lot, because I really want to show my talent to everybody that’s outside the state,” he said. “I’ve loved football ever since I was little, since rec league. I really was a baseball fan, but when I started playing football I started loving it more and kept working at it and became better at that.”
With the signings, the Jackets’ football team now has eight players headed to the college ranks.
“It’s big (for the program),” said Dan Pippin, North Augusta’s outgoing head coach. “It says a lot about the kids, the assistant coaches and the program. It’s neat that we’re to that point, where we can sign eight kids. … They’re great kids, great team guys. They helped us win a whole bunch of football games. They’re good kids going to good schools. I couldn’t be prouder.”
T.J. Lundeen is a reporter for the North Augusta Star. Follow him on Twitter @lundeentj.