FORMER Jackson County baseball player Tony Holton has made the leap from junior college baseball to the Division I level and earned a distinction in Panther history in the process.
Holton, who graduated from Jackson County Comprehensive High School in 2011, signed with Jackson (Miss.) State last week and is believed to be the first Jackson County player to move onto Division I baseball.
“It feels good breaking the barrier,” Holton said. “I won’t be the only one in the future to break this. But it feels good to have my name in that category.”
Holton’s signing certainly came as good news for his old high school coach.
“For us, particularly as a program we’re excited,” Panther baseball coach Tommy Fountain said. “He’s the first Division I guy we know of to ever come out of Jackson County from a baseball standpoint.”
Holton, who played this past season at Southern Union State Community College in Alabama, chose Jackson State over Troy, Southern University, Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville.
“I liked the size,” Holton said of Jackson State. “Not only that, they have a good program — from past players that I grew up with to past players that I watched play as I grew older.”
Holton took somewhat of a longer route to get to Division I level, but remained steadfast in his goal. The former Panther outfielder signed with Middle Georgia out of high school, but ended up redshirting in 2012. He then moved on to Spartanburg Methodist, where he played in the Junior College World Series in 2013. He then spent this past season at Southern Union, where he hit .309 with 19 RBIs in 31 games.
At Jackson State, he’ll play for a program that has won the past two SWAC titles and played in the NCAA regionals in Lafayette, Miss. this past weekend.
“He’s going to a place where he’s going to play against some of the big dogs,” Fountain said.
Holton was a potential pick in the Major League Draft out of high school in 2011 though he ultimately went undrafted. He then fell out of that spotlight while red shirting at Middle Georgia. But Holton is starting to gain some recognition again as Fountain has talked with a couple of Major League scouts within the past two years. He said Holton is a player with a plus arm in the outfield who can really run well.
“He’s still on some guys’ radars,” Fountain said.
As a Division I player now, he’ll have a chance to show off those skills. Playing at this level was always Holton’s goal.
“It feels good to achieve something that I’ve been striving for ever since I was a child,” Holton said.
In fact, Fountain remembers a promise Holton made to him about that very goal.
“When he graduated, he told me, ‘coach, I’m going to be the first one (to play Division I),’” Fountain said. “And so he is.”