Ben Noland poses with his parents during his signing ceremony on Thursday afternoon.

Oconee County High School head coach Travis Noland loves tough and gritty football players.

As he stood in front of a group of his players, current and from Stephens County High School he proclaimed that the young man he was speaking on behalf of was the toughest football player he’d coached.

That player happens to be his son, Ben Noland. Ben fought back from two torn Anterior Cruciate Ligaments in his sophomore and junior seasons before suffering another a third torn ACL at the end of his senior season.

The elder Noland has been in the doctor’s appointments and seen the hard work behind the scenes as his youngest son battled just to be on the field just to watch him conflicted on even continuing to play the sport.

Ben continued to push and found himself in the OCHS record books with the most receptions in school history after catching 50 passes while helping the Warriors to a Region 8-4A championship before re-injuring his knee in their playoff win over Marist.

Travis admires his son’s will to continue to get up. The toughness Travis spoke of standing in front of his players on Thursday morning stems from his son’s refusal to give on the game he loves.

“To me the true sign of toughness is how far somebody comes back when they get knocked down,” Travis said. “He’s been knocked down three years in a row. He’s had an eight-month recovery three years in a row. For him to continue to want to play football after that just says a lot about what it means to him. There’s a lot of people that can’t come back from one ACL injury, much less to go through three. I’ve never had a kid go through that.”

Ben will have the opportunity to stand up once more and continue his journey as a football player. On Thursday morning Ben signed with Middle Tennessee State University as a preferred walk on.

An opportunity is all Ben was looking for following the season. The process was a stressful one. Ben was tasked with deciding between location or potentially joining his older brother Zeb Noland in Fargo, North Dakota at North Dakota State University.

“It was hard to decide where I wanted to go and visit all the places,” Ben said. “I’m just glad I got the opportunity. It’s a good opportunity. I think once I get there, I’ll prove myself and hopefully earn a scholarship.”

Zeb, a junior at NDSU, only has one more season in Fargo, so Ben opted to remain closer to his family in Oconee County by committing to MTSU in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Ben nearly committed to NDSU before taking a deeper look into MTSU.

“It was hard because I love it up there,” Ben said. “It’s far from home and in a year he’ll (Zeb) be gone. I wanted to start my own name for myself.”

Ben will major in concrete management in college.

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