Oneida senior Cole West said his heart has been set on going to East Tennessee State University. And, on Wednesday, he made it official by signing a letter of intent with the Bucs.
West, who committed to ETSU on Monday and stuck by his commitment despite a push from Carson-Newman University, said that the decision was not necessarily easy, but the opportunity is great.
"I just felt like since they're starting up a new program that I can contribute by being there," West said. "My goal is to go to ETSU and win a conference championship, make the all-conference team at some point in the near future."
West is a part of ETSU's first recruiting class as the school prepares for its return to college football. The school dropped football in 2003, but decided last year to bring it back.
"I like their location, I think they're in a good conference," West said. "They're Division I, which is always big. I just like the school."
After playing a JV schedule in 2014, ETSU will officially begin play in 2015. The Bucs will join the FCS's Southern Conference for the 2016 season. West and other players coming out of high school who sign with ETSU will redshirt in 2014 and begin their first year of official eligibility in 2015.
ETSU has made a big push to recruit East Tennessee talent since voting to re-start the football program and hiring Carl Torbush, a former head coach at the University of North Carolina.
West, who was a three-sport standout and two-way football player at Oneida, will only play football at ETSU, and will play somewhere on the defensive side of the ball. He played safety in high school, and was an all-state free safety for the Indians this past season, but could also potentially move to outside linebacker with some added weight in ETSU's strength-and-conditioning program.
Tony Lambert, West's high school coach, said there is little doubt in his mind that West will excel wherever he's at on the field.
"I think he'll compete for playing time immediately," Lambert said. "His competitive nature alone will make up the difference against anybody Cole goes against. He's always going to have that one intangible that they aren't gonna have. He is the most competitive player I've ever coached. He's a fierce competitor."
Lambert called Wednesday's signing "a great day for Cole, a great day for the West family, a great day for Oneida High School, but an even better day for ETSU."
West is believed to be the first Oneida football player to sign with a Division I school directly out of high school. Dylan West was a preferred walk-on at the University of Tennessee and later received a scholarship. Lambert said West's opportunity is an example for other high school players.
"It just goes to show that if you're willing to work hard and you're willing to compete at a high level, as long as you've got the tools, there's a place for you," he said.