Mandeville linebacker Jonathan Picone starts Texas Tech career next month _lowres

Advocate file photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Mandeville's Jonathan Picone blocks a field goal attempt by Ponchatoula's Darrius Smith during an Oct. 1 game.

For the second consecutive season, St. Tammany Parish has produced a Football Bowl Subdivision signee who will arrive on campus in time for spring football.

After helping lead Mandeville to the state semifinals this past season, middle linebacker Jonathan Picone made it official Dec. 15, signing his financial aid papers to begin his career at Texas Tech.

“After I had got my first scholarship offer during my junior season, I told my parents I wanted to be an early enrollee,” Picone said. “Whatever school I ended up choosing, I believe me arriving in the spring gave me a better chance to be successful.

“It’s a surreal feeling. It’s hard to describe. I truly value the relationships I have made in my time being part of the Mandeville football program. It is something I will value for the rest of my life. I never thought I would be putting on red and black, but I’m proud to do so and beginning a new phase of life.”

A home-school student who played on the Skippers football team, the 6-2, 215-pound Picone concluded his high school career Dec. 15. He is set to arrive on campus in Lubbock on Jan. 15.

Getting the chance to arrive before a majority of the incoming freshman and the chance to participate in spring practice were the other contributing factors in Picone’s decision to graduate early.

“It’s absolutely huge,” he said. “That doesn’t even include the time I am going to get to have in the weight room and nutrition-wise developing my body. When I talked to the coaching staff, I am going to get to have 17 practices on the field more than the other freshmen who start to arrive in June and August. I mean I already have my playbook too and have been studying it. I am going to arrive on campus as prepared as I can possibly be. I’m not coming into this thing raw.”

The other big thing for Picone is his health. Leaving the Class 5A quarterfinal playoff game against Landry-Walker with a knee injury and having to miss the semifinal game against John Ehret, Picone said he fully expects to be cleared for the start of spring football.

“It ended up only being an MCL sprain,” he said. “I continue to rehabilitate it each and every day. I would say that I am about a week away from being 100 percent. No stress, no pain, nothing. I will be cleared to play, even before I enroll in classes at Texas Tech.”

Picone finished the 2015 season with 96 tackles (36 solo) with six sacks.

He joins a program that is coming off of a regular season ranked as one of the nation’s worst defensive teams (126th). Picone said he is eager about the opportunity to come in and change that immediately.

“I’m looking forward to that more than anything,” he said. “When I was being recruited the coaching staff, they told me they would want me immediately to come in and compete. Before even my first practice I’m the backup middle linebacker on the depth chart. That’s before I even put a helmet on.”