BASKETBALL: Ridgeland's Eric Byrd lands with Bobcats

On hand to watch Ridgeland senior Eric Byrd (seated, center) sign on to play basketball for Georgia Northwestern was Curisten Hinton, Montrell Hinton, Erica Davis and Malik Byrd, along with Georgia Northwestern head coach David Stephenson, Ridgeland assistant coach Michael Baker and Ridgeland head coach Matt King. (Photo by Scott Herpst)

When Georgia Northwestern began athletics more than a decade ago, it was with the desire to provide local athletes the opportunity to play in college.

The school's latest recruit is the perfect embodiment of that mission statement.

Ridgeland basketball player Eric Byrd, normally all smiles, all the time, was positively beaming before and after he signed his letter on intent with the Bobcats in front of family and friends on Tuesday.

After not having played varsity basketball until this past season, the senior swingman found his way in the lineup and immediately paid dividends by averaging 6.5 points and 6.1 rebounds a night for the Panthers.

"He's an athlete," Ridgeland head coach Matt King said. "When Eric expressed an interest about playing for GNTC, I contact Coach Stephenson and (Stephenson) wanted to interview him first before he ever looked at any tape, which says a lot about Coach Stephenson. But if you interview Byrd, you're going to want him. He's going to do anything you want him to do for the team.

"For him to not have played his sophomore and junior seasons, and then come back as a senior, it could have been intimidating. But he ended up having a great summer and carried it over."

Byrd said Signing Day meant a lot him.

"It means I can show my talents at the next level," he said. "I'm just thankful for the gifts God has given me."

Byrd added that a number of factors went into his decision.

"They have welding, which I want to go into," he continued, "and it's an opportunity to learn new things. It's also a very good environment to play in. It's close to home and there are people there that I know and we'll be able to play together."

King said the Bobcats were getting a player with decent range on the offensive end, but one that can run the floor as well as anyone, while also playing lockdown defense.

"You can't underestimate the value of being a hard worker and Eric is one of the guys who works hard regardless," he said. "He's a success story for Ridgeland and I couldn't be happier for Eric to be able to fulfill his dream of playing college basketball. Plus, he'll be able to further himself and continue his education and that's big for him."

Stephenson said he's been "pleasantly surprised" with Byrd already.

"It's been a while since we've talked to any guys from Ridgeland, but our two (women's basketball players) that we have from Ridgeland both spoke highly of him," Stephenson said. "Matt (King) is also one of my former players and he spoke really highly of Eric too. I've been really impressed with him.

"From the time he sat down with us, he just seems like the type of kid that would be willing to do anything to be part of the team. He's left-handed and has good height. He needs to put on a little weight, but I think he'll do well for us.

"One of the things we're realizing is that some kids don't really appreciate the opportunities that they get. But I think he's going to be one of those kids that will. I'm really excited to see what he can do."

Byrd said he had a lot offer to the Bobcat program.

"I'm going to bring hard work, defense and offense," he said. "I just want to bring everything I can, plus teamwork. Without teamwork and defense, you aren't winning any games."