COVINGTON, Ga. - With national signing day only a couple of short weeks away, Alcovy Tigers defensive back Laken Nettles decided that he was ready to make his decision as he committed to the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears.
Nettles went on an official visit on the weekend of Jan.18-19, and that visit for him, with his mom and his sister at his side, sealed in his mind that Lenoir-Rhyne was the place for him.
"Lenoir-Rhyne's community, the alumni and staff all showed me love when I went up there, but what really got me to Lenoir Rhyne was their emphasis on academics and making you a better man," Nettles said.
With Nettles loving everything he saw at Lenoir-Rhyne, it was the approval from his mom that let him know that he was ready to commit to the Bears.
"She loves it. That's what really sealed the deal because when I was sitting down with coach Jacobs in the room, right before I told him I wanted to commit, I looked over at her, and she was looking at me smiling and shaking her head," Nettles said.
"So if mom likes it, then I love it."
Lenoir-Rhyne is located in Hickory, North Carolina, which is only a four-hour drive from Covington, Georgia. Nettles mentioned that the distance definitely also played a factor in deciding on the Bears as it was not too far from home.
Nettles's path to choosing Lenoir-Rhyne was an interesting one as he had announced on Jan. 3 that he had been re-offered by the Bears. This re-offer was due to the fact that a new coaching staff was taking over, and it was one that Nettles was very close with at the time.
"What's crazy is that the staff at Lenoir-Rhyne now came from Notre Dame College, which is a school that offered me back in October," said Nettles.
"Lenoir-Rhyne was always going to be that school that I wanted to go to, so when they came to Lenoir-Rhyne, it like fit perfectly for me because I was already talking to them."
With multiple coaches coming from Notre Dame College to Lenoir-Rhyne, Nettles already had a sense of comfort with the staff. The incoming defensive coordinator was one coach that Nettles had a strong bond with and helped him get to Lenoir-Rhyne.
"Coach (Jahmal) Brown, he came to the school and sat down with coach Dukes and me, and he just really kept it upfront with me on how they're going to use me and telling me his plans of how we're going to win a D-II national championship one day. All those things caught my eye and made me commit on my official visit," said Nettles.
With the Bears' recent success, Nettles said that not only excites him but he believes that it will be the perfect program for him to continue to build his skills on the field and develop as a player.
"Just for me to get the opportunity to go to a college that is known for winning and known for going to big games that excites me and just getting used to that culture I feel like will make me a better person," he said.
The Bears definitely have a winning culture in recent years as they have gone 25-3 in the past two years, falling in the quarterfinals of the Division-II playoffs each year.
In the past two seasons, the team that the Bears have fallen to in the quarterfinals has gone on to win the national championship. In 2019, the Bears fell to the West Florida Argonauts by a score of 43-38 in the quarterfinal round.
Nettles will hope that he can help the Bears get over their quarterfinal hump and climb the mountain to be Division-II national champions.
As for what position he may play in the future, Nettles said that Brown mentioned that they intend to use him as a corner at first but may slide him at the nickelback spot or safety spot down the road.
What type of player are the Bears getting in Nettles? Alcovy Tigers defensive backs coach Jimmy Bruno raved about the "uber athlete" that should be a huge help to the Bears on the field.
"He's a great player, and he's going to do really well at the next level. Technically, he's probably the most technically sound defensive back that I had this year, and he's only going to get better with the competition that he will play against because he always rises to the competition," said Bruno.
Nettles mentioned Bruno and Tigers' head coach Jason Dukes as two guys that really helped him along this season but shouted out a former coach for believing in him and giving him a shot his sophomore year.
"Coach Altoine Wilson, when I first came to Alcovy my sophomore year, he was one of the guys that made me into the player I am today, and he got me on the field my sophomore year," Nettles said.
"I'll never forget this. We had a region game against Heritage my sophomore year, and I was one of the guys that caught a pick. We didn't win that game, but I caught that pick, and I'll never forget that. One of the main reasons I was even on that field was because of coach Wilson, and it started from there, and I want to thank him a lot."
With the football side of things looking up, Nettles consistently mentioned that his main goal is to become a better man throughout his process, and the coaching staff's emphasis on that is what sold him.
"The visit was awesome. I met up with the coaches at the hotel, and as soon as I walked in, they showed me love, but mostly it wasn't so much about football. It was more about how they were going to make me a better person, and that's what really got me," Nettles said.
After meeting with the staff, Nettles was able to talk with some players, who he said, "kept it real with him," but echoed the importance of how not only the staff but other people would help him grow as a man at the school.
"I chopped it up with a lot of players, and they were just telling me how this was the school that was not only going to push me football-wise but everybody. Staff, alumni, and students, they're all going to uplift me to be a better person, and I liked that a lot," Nettles said.
Nettles mentioned that he is looking to do "a lot of big things" at Lenoir-Rhyne and made sure to specify that that did not just involve the football field but also academics as well. Nettles already has a major or at least an area of study in mind as he hopes to stay around the game in the future.
"I'm looking to go into sports science or sports management so that even after football, I can still be around sports," Nettles said.
With Nettles's aspirations to excel both on the field and in the classroom, the sky is the limit for him, and he will be a guy we keep our eyes on in the future.