The long road to recovery for Cordell France is making all of his recent success a little bit sweeter.
The Mount Airy track star had a fracture in the L3 vertebra of his spine during the end of his junior season. France sat out his senior football season with the hope that rehab and hard work would result in a successful final year with the Mount Airy track team, knowing that a good season on the track could earn him a college scholarship.
There were some bumps along the way, but in the end, France accomplished both of his goals. He took home a gold medal in the NCHSAA 1A state championship for the 4×200 relay event and also earned a second- and third-place finish in other events to help propel the Granite Bears to their first-ever team state championship in track and field.
On Tuesday, France reaped the rewards of his hard work on a personal level, signing with Mars Hill University to continue his track career at the collegiate level.
“In my mind, I always thought I would be the same Cordell, but it didn’t work that way at first,” France said. “I just had to work every day and prove to myself that I could get back to this point.”
France started to receive interest from Mars Hill once the spring track season began. He didn’t seriously consider the Lions as his future team at first, because he was still dedicating so much of his time to recovery and improving his own times.
However, the Mars Hill coaching staff continued to press for his services, and the Lions officially offered France a spot on the team after a dazzling display at the 1A Midwest Regional.
Two weekends after clinching the state championship for Mount Airy, France finally took an official visit to Mars Hill. He enjoyed his time in the western mountains of North Carolina, and the Mount Airy senior committed to run track for the Lions during that visit.
“We just toured then whole school, and at the end of the day the coaches brought me into their office,” France said. “I looked around the room and saw all the hardware they had around, and knew that was the place I wanted to be.”
Mars Hill is an NCAA Division II school that competes in the South Atlantic Conference. Seven of the 12 schools in the SAC hail from North Carolina.
The Lions intend to redshirt France during his freshman season so he can focus on training and improving his times throughout his inaugural season. This idea didn’t sit well with France at first, but he’s coming around to the idea as he closes in on beginning his collegiate career.
“I wasn’t happy at first, but I knew I couldn’t complain,” France said. “I’m going to get there and work out and I know with their workouts I’ll be able to improve, and of course school will come first and that’s something I’ll be able to really focus on.”
The Lions coaches have already told France he will need to work on his ability to get out of the blocks, but otherwise his improvements will come from just training and getting faster.
As for his academics, France intends to major in athletic training at Mars Hill.
Before he arrives on campus, France still has one more track meet to don the Mount Airy colors. He will compete in the New Balance Nationals at NC A&T University this summer. France will be running unattached, but still wearing his Mount Airy uniform.
It will be the same uniform he wore at the state championship track meet back on May 20. He considers that day his proudest achievement as a Granite Bear.
“I knew North Stokes was trying to get their third straight championship,” France said. “Me and Gabe (King) talked to the team about how we didn’t want to let that happen and how big of a deal this was for us and the whole team. Being able to win that championship was just amazing.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16