JACKSONVILLE — Devaunte Sigler has lots of goals ahead, for himself and for the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.

There’s a “long peak to climb,” he said following practice one day last week. No matter what’s ahead, the defensive tackle has reached one milestone that had seemed insurmountable.

Sigler found out Monday, just before practice, that he was eligible to play — on scholarship — at JSU.

“Coach (Todd) Bates called me about an hour and 30 minutes before practice,” he said. “I started not to answer the phone because I was about to take a nap. I heard everybody in the background, and he said, ‘Sig, I’ve got something important to tell you.’ When he told me, I just wanted to break down right there. I’ve been through a lot this past year and a half.”

Sigler began his college football career at Auburn in 2011, playing in all 13 games for the Tigers, after starring at B.C. Rain in Mobile. The 6-foot-4, 292-pounder was dismissed from the team following the 2012 season, though.

“I just had lot of things going on at the time, family-wise, with me being my mom’s oldest child and I do have a daughter (Essence Michelle), who is 3,” he said. “I had a lot of things weighing on me at the time. Auburn is a great place, I love the coaching staff and everyone who is up there. It’s a family and that’s the reason I went there. It’s the reason I came to Jacksonville State. It’s all about family.”

After missing the 2013 season, Sigler decided to get back in the game, if he could. He considered several Southwestern Athletic Conference teams, among others.

“Before I came to Jacksonville State, I talked to Chris Landrum,” Sigler said, referring to another former Auburn player who transferred to JSU. “Chris was one of my best friends at Auburn and he’s one of my best friends now. I was in a hole and I needed some help.”

Sigler enrolled in January — paying his way with a student loan — and participated in spring training as a walk-on while he waited to see if academic issues that arose over his departure from Auburn could be worked out.

“I came to Jacksonville State in January, walked on with no scholarship and just busted my tail trying to better myself,” he said.

Bates said he was impressed with Sigler’s attitude and hard work with no guarantee that he would be eligible.

“If he hadn’t made it,” Bates said, “he would be the best scout-team player in America.”

Sigler said he knows he almost lost a great opportunity.

“Not everyone knows, but I was out of school for a whole year,” he said. “I saw things that I wouldn’t want anybody else to see. If a kid was thinking about quitting a team and he had a scholarship, I would tell him to stay in school to get that education. I had nothing for a long time. When I got here, I had to work hard. I had everything in my hands at one time, and it was taken from me. That humbled me. I came to Jacksonville State to just work and grind it out.

“The whole feeling at Jacksonville State is that everybody is a family, man. They are encouraging every day. I love this place, the coaching staff and my teammates. They all brought me in knowing my situation and kept me under their wing.”

Sigler has worked his way to No. 1 in the preseason depth chart at defensive tackle. The defensive line is expected to be a strength for the eighth-ranked Gamecocks.

“The rest of the guys on the team feed off us,” he said. “We’re pretty good, but we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a long peak to climb.”