Polk County Cade Bright signed a letter-of-intent Tuesday to run track at Gardner-Webb. Joining Bright were, front row from left, mother Kelly Bright, sister Renee Bright and father Travis Bright. Back row, from left: PCHS athletic director DeShane Briscoe, principal Michelle Bean, assistant track coach Dewayne Elliott, assistant track coach Amanda Simoncic and head track coach Alan Peoples.

It was a choice Cade Bright never expected to have.

A standout soccer goalkeeper for many years, Bright thought perhaps that sport might offer him an opportunity to play at the college level. To help facilitate that dream, Bright joined Polk County’s track and field program, looking to boost his fitness.

Instead, he opened a new avenue to continuing his athletic career; Bright’s on-track prowess led to an offer to run at Gardner-Webb University, giving him a decision to make between that path and chances to play college soccer.

In the end, Bright’s newest sport became his future one. The Polk senior opted to continue to run, making that official Tuesday in signing with the Bulldogs during a ceremony in the PCHS auditorium.

That may have been a sigh of relief coming from the stage at day’s end.

“It was a hard decision,” Bright said.”But I realized that I wanted to do track at the next level.

“When I first came to high school and I started track, it was mostly just to prepare myself for soccer the next season. But as the seasons went on, I realized that was what I wanted to do, to run track. So it means a lot to finally be here.”

Bright has been a middle distance runner for the Polk program, competing primarily at 800 meters and as part of the Wolverines’ 4×800-meter relay teams. It was a relay, in fact, that ignited Bright’s interest in running collegiately.

“I realized (college might be an option) at the end of last year, when I ran a 2:06 split in the four by eight,” Bright said. “I was like, oh, hey, that’s pretty good. So I started looking at the recruiting times for some schools.”

Turning his focus to track put some added pressure on Bright, especially during the indoor season earlier this year. Bright ran the 1000 meters for Polk as well as competed on the 4×800 team that placed 13th at the state 1A/2A championships.

“I was up during all of indoors, thinking I’ve got to get fast. I’ve got to be able to hit the time I need to hit,” he said. “Now that I’m there, I don’t have to worry as much.”

Polk County head coach Alan Peoples expects Bright to continue to succeed on the track. There’s also a chance that Bright will run cross country for the Bulldogs

“Hard work pays off,” Peoples said. “He’s been working on this for four years, eight seasons, running the 400, 800 and four by eight. He’s pretty good at it, as you can see.”

Bright plans to pursue a degree in Christian studies at Gardner-Webb, where he will be a Division I athlete.

“I never thought I’d even be a college athlete,” he said. “To be able to run at a Division I school is just more than I could ever ask for, and I’m just thankful to God that He’s giving me the opportunity to be able to do that.”