CHARLESTON — Charleston's Nick Oakley started to receive interest from a couple of local NCAA Division I schools right before the state track meet last season. So over the summer, he spent some time visiting Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois and Illinois State.
One thing kept sticking in Oakley's mind as he visited other schools, that EIU just felt like the right fit, not only because it was close to home, but because he bonded with the other runners and coaches.
So on Friday, Oakley made his decision final. He signed a National Letter of Intent to run track and cross country for EIU.
"It feels good, I am excited," Oakley said. "I really enjoyed the team aspect of it and how they felt like a family and we really bonded with each other. I think the coaches are great and Eastern is definitely a good choice for me."
Oakley said it was nice to have interest from ISU and SIU, but EIU always felt like the right fit. Plus Oakley gets to stay right in Charleston.
"It made me feel really good and I enjoyed it a lot," Oakley said. "It will make it easy on my family because they can still watch me. It will be really good."
Charleston boys' cross country coach Brian Oakley, who is also Nick's father, was all smiles as his son signed with EIU on Friday.
"He's been looking at two or three schools, and I think Eastern was always the leader from the start," Brian Oakley said. "It was an easy decision for him I think. It will be good to see as many of his meets that we can."
Nick follows in his father's footsteps as a D-I runner. Brian was a standout cross country and track runner for Cumberland High School and then went to run at Parkland College before attending Western Illinois University.
Oakley has turned a corner over the past year. He finished in ninth place in the 800-meter run last spring at the Class 2A state track and field meet, and the progress carried over to the cross country season. Oakley won the 2A sectional meet and earned All-State honors at the 2A state cross country meet by finishing in 15th place.
Still, Oakley feels he can improve even more and that EIU track and field coach Tom Akers and EIU cross country coach Erin Howarth will get the most out of him.
"I think Eastern will really help me hit my potential and contribute a lot to me," Oakley said.
Brian Oakley said the coaching staff at EIU will help Nick mature even more as a runner.
"I think he's got some growth and strength to gain yet," Brian Oakley said. "I know I am a dad and playing favoritism, but I think there's some potential there for continued growth and development. He's a late bloomer for sure."