April 18, 2013

Two Bruins will play for Berry College

Chris Whitfield

— Because of family tradition, Berry College has long been on Brady Middleton’s mind.

The lure of football is taking Kaleb King to the Rome college.

Middleton, a second baseman for Northwest Whitfield High School’s baseball team, and King, a cornerback for the Bruins’ football team, have both committed to play collegiate athletics with the Vikings. A former member of the NAIA, Berry’s athletic programs are now part of the NCAA’s Division III, which doesn’t offer athletic scholarships.

Berry has been in Middleton’s consciousness because his father — Northwest baseball coach Todd Middleton — played baseball at the school, and his grandfather Bob Pearson is a professor at the school. Still, Middleton said it took a while before he decided where he wanted to continue his baseball career.

“I didn’t make a decision until earlier this year,” he said. “It has always been on my mind, but I wanted to see what other possibilities were out there.”

In the end, it was the combination of baseball and engineering that swayed him some 45 minutes down the road.

“I really like coach (David) Beasley and the way he runs his program,” Middleton said. “The college is great, and they have an engineering major, which gives me a lot of options when I am finished with my four years there.”

Berry has a partnership with Georgia Tech’s engineering programs, and a five-year program gives engineering majors a dual degree from both Berry and Georgia Tech. That engineering line was also a big consideration for King.

“I have always wanted to end up at Georgia Tech eventually and major in computer engineering,” King said. “I like technology. I have always enjoyed being on the computer and learning about the technology behind that.”

While Berry has been aware of Middleton for a number of years because of his family connections, King wasn’t expecting to play football in college.

“I mean, look at me. I’m 5-foot-9, 150 pounds,” King said. “I never thought I would have a chance to play. I thought I had an OK year my junior season, but last year was a really good year for me. I felt like the competition was better last year and I played to a higher level, and I think that might have caught their eye.”

The opportunity to play at Berry was a bonus for King, who said he would have enrolled at Georgia Tech and not played football if Berry hadn’t come around.

Tony Kunczewski, who helped LaGrange College build its football program from scratch and reach the NCAA Division III playoffs in just its third season, was named the first head football coach in Berry College history on April 16, 2012.

The Vikings, who are members of the Southern Athletic Association, will play their inaugural football season with a 10-game schedule this fall. Their opponents will include Tennessee’s Maryville and LaGrange’s junior varsity team as well as Mercer, another new program.

King saw the ground-level nature of Berry’s program as an asset.

“I wanted to play still, but I didn’t want to go somewhere where I would wait for two years to get to play,” said King, who also considered the University of Washington-St. Louis, Birmingham-South-ern and LaGrange.

A member of The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Football Team as a senior, King finished with 87 tackles, including a career-high 17 against Ridgeland. He was also an honorable mention selection to this year’s All-Area Boys Basketball Team.

Middleton — who also played football — has been a starter at second base for the Bruins the past three years. This season, he is batting leadoff and hitting nearly .450 for the Bruins, who have already clinched the Sub-region 7B-4A title. Northwest will play for the region title in a best-of-three series next week and has already guaranteed itself of a trip to the Class 4A state playoffs.

“This year has been great,” Middleton said. “I felt like we have done what we needed to and what we expected to do and now we are just trying to keep a level head and take the next step. As the son of a baseball coach, it has always been in my plan to try to get the opportunity to play in college, and I am just real grateful to find a way to play and keep on playing.”

The Vikings, who close the regular season with a three-game series at Birmingham-Southern that starts Friday, are 16-20 overall this year and 12-6 in conference play. Beasley is in his 17th season leading the program and has won more than 500 games.