CULLMAN — Transitioning from high school to college is one of the biggest adjustments anyone has to make.
For Cullman High graduates Kreg Keiffer and Michelle Pilcher, the two of them will be adjusting to college athletics as well as a new college lifestyle.
The two former Bearcats will be attending Berry College in Rome, Ga., starting in the fall. Pilcher will be on the Vikings’ swim team and Keiffer is going to play on the school’s very first football team.
The sports aspect isn’t the only thing that brought these two to the school. Pilcher said she couldn’t pinpoint just one thing she liked about Berry.
“The academic perspective, the work program they offer, and it helped a lot that they had a swimming program, too,” she said. “The campus is beautiful. It’s wonderful and very inviting. I really love it all.”
Keiffer was originally interested in the school’s basketball program, but the thought of being on the first football team really appealed to him.
“I have so much fun with football, and I didn’t want it to end yet,” he said. “And I knew it would be cool to be apart of the first team at Berry and be apart of history.”
He said his decision to switch over to football was originally difficult, but then the right move became clear.
“God just started opening some doors, and it felt right to lean towards football,” he said. “Since then, things have fallen into place perfectly.”
Pilcher, who’s been swimming since she was 7, said she enjoys the breaststroke the most. She became a year-round swimmer eight years ago, which she said helped her develop her skills.
“It really gives you a chance to improve and have that experience year-round because the swimmers who swim in the summer, they have a little bit of experience, but once you enter the year-round swimming, it opens more opportunities to improve and experience meets and meet other swimmers,” she said.
Though the school can’t give out athletic scholarships, Pilcher has an academic scholarship for school.
“The athletic department had nothing to do with offering scholarships,” she said. “They didn’t contact me at all, but the financial aid group helped me with that just because it was Division III they can’t recruit like that. They can’t make promises during the recruiting process.”
The football team won’t play its first game until next year. They’re using this year to practice and perfect things before starting games.
“This fall we’ll just be working out and training,” Keiffer said. “We’ll be working the whole year, and we’ll start the next year.”
Keiffer, who plays as an outside linebacker, said he doesn’t feel any extra pressure being on the school’s first football team.
“I don’t see anyone expecting us to go out and be undefeated,” he said. “I believe as we get a year under our belt, we’ll be playoff contenders in a couple of years. It’s building into it.”
Keiffer said he had heard that Pilcher was also considering Berry, but didn’t know she was officially going there until Cullman’s scholarship ceremony. He said it’ll be nice to have another Cullman graduate at school with him.
“It does help because you’re not the only person,” he said. “You’re not going all by yourself. You’ve got one familiar face, so it’ll make things a little easier.”
Berry is only about two and a half hours away from Cullman, so Keiffer said he isn’t worried about moving out of state for school.
“I don’t think it’ll be that big of a difference,” he said. “I’ve got an uncle that lives nearby in Georgia, and I’ll be making a couple of trips home in the first year while I still can before football heats up.”
For both of the new freshmen, they’re excited about starting the next phase of their lives.
“I’ve kind of just been reminding myself to be myself and be open to everything that comes my way, like meeting new people and joining different clubs,” Pilcher said. “They have opportunities to join different groups and clubs that seem interesting. I don’t know much about them, but it’s just something totally new that’ll be really exciting and wonderful.”
Keiffer is likewise ready to see what new things he can discover.
“Getting out in the new world and growing up and actually just finding out what’s out there for me, the whole transition, I’m excited about everything about it,” he said.
The two were at freshman orientation together, and Keiffer said they had a good time there.
“Orientation was really neat,” he said. “We got to meet a lot of new people.”
However, neither of them have had much contact with their future teammates. Pilcher said she’s met a swimmer who will be a sophomore next year, and Keiffer said the coach told him so far, there are seven other players on the team coming to Berry this year.
Both athletes have been working this summer to keep in shape. Keiffer said he goes to the weight room every other day, while Pilcher has been on the Cullman Swim Team this summer. This past weekend, she’s been in Opelika swimming in the state championship meet.
Keiffer feels very confident about playing college football because he said playing for Cullman prepared him well.
“It was very strong week in and week out, but college of course it’ll be a little bit tougher,” he said. “I believe with the coaches at Cullman, I got better. I’ve already got a step ahead of some of the players because the coaching I had at Cullman.”
Cullman football coach Mark Britton said he believes Keiffer will have success in collegiate football.
“He did a good job for us at the linebacker spot,” he said. “He was a good leader for us on that defensive squad last year.”
Cullman Swim Team coach Alison Norris said she had always thought it was a possibility Pilcher could swim at the collegiate level.
“I think she’ll do really well,” Norris said. “I think she trains more for the longer swims, which is more of what they do at that level, and I think she’ll get some good training time in because she’ll be at that school. Being at school where she can train in the morning, if they do twice a day, plus everyone on the team does the same thing, so I think training-wise she’ll still improve.”
% Laura Owens can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.