Kinston's Niejel Wilkins commits to ECU in historic track signing
Niejel Wilkins, center, is heading to ECU, making the announcement Monday at Kinston High School. Sitting next to Wilkins are, from left, stepmother. Wydeah Wilkins; father, Clarence Wilkins; mother, Koren Jones; and aunt, Alyce Harris. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News
Niejel Wilkins had a flair for the dramatics Monday.
For six weeks, the Kinston High track and field stalwart kept his decision on where he was going to college silent, telling only his mother, Koren Jones, and coach, Corey Bryant. In front of dozens at Kinston’s Media Center, Wilkins took off his Vikings hoodie to reveal a t-shirt with his college choice.
Wilkins is heading to ECU, becoming the first Kinston student to receive a track scholarship straight out of high school. Wilkins, who plans to major in exercise and sport science, won the NCHSAA 2A indoor track and field state championship in the triple jump in February, allowing him to participate in the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York City a month later.
“To me, it meant that the hard work paid off,” Wilkins said. “It allows me to be an example to some of the younger athletes that anything is possible if you keep working on your craft. I’m excited to be able to go to ECU and take my career to the next level.”
Jones said she was overjoyed by her son’s decision.
“This was something he’s wanted to do and I’m glad he’s chosen to stay close to home so if he needs anything I can make it,” Jones said. “He’s always loved being outside and trying new things, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Clarence Wilkins, Niejel’s father, shared similar sentiments.
“Every time I talked to him, he was telling me about his goals and what he’s working on,” Wilkins said. “With me living in Virginia, it can be hard to see him run but with me retiring, I’ll be able to check him out more. I’m definitely proud of him and this means a lot.”
Bryant said Niejel Wilkins has come a long way and there’s still room to grow.
“He’s a four-year kid in track, which is a rarity,” Bryant said. “His work ethic is second to none — he started off running the 800 meter, working himself into a Regional appearance as a freshman and sophomore. Around the end of indoor season last year, he come to me and asked what more he could do. I said ‘maybe you can try jumping events.’ He said he wasn’t familiar with the triple jump, but he went out and worked. He watched YouTube videos and pretty much developed on his own with a little bit of guidance.
“I couldn’t be happier for him. When he came in as a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect, but he has truly developed into an athlete. The most impressive thing is he’s still raw — he’s only been doing (the triple jump) for about a year and a half, so working with the coaches at ECU will help him get even better.”
Wilkins said there are still goals to reach before ECU.
“I’m just going to keep working hard and hone my craft,” Wilkins said. “Right now, my goal is to reach 50 feet or close to it as I’m trying to prepare for Regionals and States. Hopefully, I can qualify for the national meet.”
The Eastern Carolina Conference championships are set for Wednesday at Washington High School.