Eli Westbrook signs swim scholarship with Eastern Illinois

Published 10:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2023

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Springwood senior Eli Westbrook has committed to Eastern Illinois for swimming at the next level.

Springwood doesn’t have a swim team, so Westbrook had to travel to Opelika to swim for the Opelika Swim Team.

Westbrook played basketball this winter while also balancing his time with swimming.

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Westbrook is excited to earn an athletic scholarhip.

“I’m ready to get a full season of swim,” Westbrook said.

“I’ll miss basketball, but I’m excited to just do swim and see how much I can improve. I’m ready to get to Illinois and see what I can do.”

Westbrook explained how it was difficult to spend at least four hours after school focusing on two different sports.

“It was tough having to go to practice back-to-back four or five days a week,” Westbrook said.

“With the injuries I had with my knee and ankles, it definitely was hard. Both my  coaches were really supportive, and they made it easier on me. Being able to do both consistently was really a blessing to me.”

Westbrook explained why he chose Eastern Illinois.

“My coach went there, and his brother coached there,” Westbrook said.

“They know the area pretty well. I talked to the coach a lot, and we really connected. I feel like I’d be a great fit. I’m going to visit soon, and I’m really excited.”

Westbrook is excited, but he’ll also be almost 600 miles away from his hometown of LaGrange.

“That’s going to be the tough part,” Westbrook said.

“I like to drive, so it’ll be good to get out of Alabama a little bit and explore the outside world.”

Westbrook feels like his skills fit the Panthers’ program.

“They have a really strong backstroke program,” Westbrook said.

“Once I get in there and get my training down and work with the coaches, I’ll really be able to contribute. In our conference meets, I’ll be able to score a lot of points for them in the backstroke.”

Westbrook plans to do indoor swimming.

“Illinois is going to be cold,” Westbrook said.

“They do travel to some places. I think they take a training trip to Florida, so we’ll be doing some outside swimming.”

Westbrook hopes to go pro after his time in Charleston.

“If I get as fast as I want to and maybe switch to meters and get faster than that, maybe I can sign a deal to go pro,” Westbrook said.

“If that doesn’t work out, I have other plans.”

Westbrook is looking forward to dedicating all his time to one sport.

“Being in different shape [for each sport] is really different,” Westbrook said.

“Focusing on swim six or seven days a week every week, I feel like my times will really take off.”

Eli’s swim coach, Tyler McGill, is excited to see one of his swimmers head to the next level.

“It’s just like you watch any other young seventh or eighth grader and see that this kid has talent,” McGill said.

“It can get better from there, but it has to be developed and molded. The work has to go into that.”

McGill also expressed how it was difficult to deal with Westbrook’s dual commitment.

“I wish I could have more time with him on a weekly basis,” McGill said.

“I also understand that part of being an athlete is being engaged and enjoying what you’re doing. I know he really loved basketball, so it was never a contentious thing. I always enjoyed that he got to do both, and I think it made him a better swimmer, athlete and teammate.”

McGill also knows that Westbrook can bring a lot to college.

“He brings a lot of potential,” McGill said.

“A lot of growth can still happen. He’s probably spent a third of the time that most swimmers going to college have spent in the water. A lot of the nation’s best swimmers are swimming 16-20 hours a week and Eli is in the eight to ten hour or less. There’s a lot of potential in terms of his ability to train and get stronger and be dedicated to this sport. I’m excited to see what he can do.”