University holds special ceremony for football players

North Alabama football players (L-R) Ryan Harper, Khyle Jackson, James Rivers and Josh Tate posing after their graduation ceremony Dec. 13 at the Guillot University Center. The student-athletes will miss the originally scheduled commencement Dec. 17 as they face Northwest Missouri State in the national championship game at Kansas City, Kansas.

North Alabama held a special commencement ceremony tonight for student-athletes who will miss the Dec. 17 program to play in the Division II football national championship game.

President Kenneth Kitts said the ceremony was important to recognize what the athletes have accomplished off the field.

“This is a very important opportunity for the university,” he said. “It’s our honor to be able recognize these graduates because of what they mean to the university.”

Among the graduates was safety Khyle Jackson who said the opportunity to finish his academic career in the same week he will close his athletic career is a blessing.

“I’m real excited right now,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. To go out and get my degree and play for a national championship in the same week is nice.”

Other honorees were fellow safety James Rivers, linebacker Josh Tate and fullback Ryan Harper.

There was one person receiving honors who is not a football player, but, as Kitts said, is just as important to athletics at UNA.

Athletic department administrative assistant Peggy Wingo was honored as well after finishing her bachelor’s degree.

“I’m pretty excited, and I don’t know what to do with myself now,” she said.

The Lions are set to kick off against defending national champions Northwest Missouri State Dec. 17 at 3 p.m. at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Follow us on Twitter @FlorAlaSports for live updates from the game. The game will be televised on ESPN2.