Justin Byrd had a revelation earlier this year, and it recently led him to a college scholarship.

The North Oconee High School senior has played baseball at the school but he did not always take weight training seriously. That changed this year, and Byrd bulked up and saw improvements in his game.

On Dec. 15, he got to enjoy the fruits of his labor when he signed to join the University of South Carolina Aiken baseball team.

Byrd said he only got to that point by coming to the realization that he had the talent and ability to reach the college ranks – he just needed to push himself some more.

“I feel like, since freshman year up through junior year, I hadn't really thought about working hard and now that I've actually put in the work and I thought, 'Man, if I work hard enough, I can actually do this,' and these past few months, I've actually started working harder and getting in the weight room more, putting on weight,” Byrd said. “It's really helped me a lot.”

North Oconee head coach Jay Lasley agreed with Byrd’s assessment.

Byrd was recognized during a signing ceremony held at the North Oconee field house earlier this month. While introducing Byrd to the large crowd gathered for the event, Lasley pointed to Byrd’s increased effort in weight lifting as the reason for his success.

“We're really big on the weight room in our baseball program,” Lasley said. “Byrd probably has heard the words 'weight room,' 'gain weight,' 'get bigger,' 'get stronger' probably more than any other player in our program because we knew with his talent he would have a chance to either pitch in college or possibly play infield in college. He just needed that one missing ingredient.”

Lasley said he’s noticed proof of Byrd’s improvements, and he believes that will help Byrd provide versatility to his college team.

“To his credit, this summer and this fall, he took it all serious and really started to get after it,” Lasley said. “He's done nothing but change his body. We've seen his measurables start to climb because of that. He's not only gonna have a chance to pitch or hit in college, he's gonna have a chance to do both of those things.”

Byrd had a good variety of scholarship options.

He said there were a few other offers, mostly from teams within the Peach Belt conference.

When it came time to decide on a team, Byrd said South Carolina-Aiken provided several reasons for him to join the Pacers.

“I really liked the campus,” Byrd said. “It's not too far away from home, only about two hours. The stadium is nice. They've got great coaches, great facilities.”

For his signing ceremony, Byrd was joined by a large group of family, friends, teammates and coaches.

He said their presence helped make the big day extra special.

“It's very meaningful,” Byrd said. “My whole family has helped me get here. They've helped me all the way to college.”

Byrd said he intends to major in cyber security. He also plans to minor in fitness management to one day become a trainer.

When he officially joins the Pacers, Byrd said he hopes to make an impression on the team, currently led by interim head coach Michael Holder.

“I hope to go in, make a big impact on the program and stay for four years,” Byrd said. “Wherever he wants me on the field, I'm gonna play.”

Though his future with the Pacers is set, Byrd said there is unfinished business at North Oconee.

The Titans reached the Final Four round of the playoffs their last two seasons. When they suit up again in the spring, Byrd and his teammates want to complete a state championship run.

“Just win it all,” he said. “A state championship is all we've got on our minds.”

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