03/11/07 — Trio of Rams will play college football

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Trio of Rams will play college football

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 11, 2007 10:10 AM

SNOW HILL -- J.J. Thompson, Harrison Walston and Brandon Sutton have been inseparable since their childhood days.

It's not unsual to see them together at a movie, laughing in a restaurant or sweating at tryout camps. They've developed a special bond -- not as friends, but more like brothers.

"The Trio", as they call themselves, hoped to carry that comradery to college. But they couldn't find a school that needed a fullback, receiver and defensive end.

"When push came to shove, and better opportunities and better academic situations happened, you had to go with the best," said Sutton, who has been chosen to play in the NCCA East-West All-Star game in July.

"We had to stand on our own two feet."

All three signed national letters-of-intent with in-state schools. Thompson will play for Winston-Salem State. Walston is heading to UNC Pembroke, which begins its first season of competition next fall. Catawba landed Sutton, who turned down six Division I-AA offers.

Fourth-year Greene Central head coach Jim Bob Bryant spent two weeks compiling highlight tapes on his three all-conference players. He sent 62 videos to colleges up and down the east coast. He also carted "The Trio" to numerous spring and summer combines, and camps.

Bryant said that Thompson and Harrison each received several offers, but held off signing on the dotted line.'

"They were patient," said Bryant. "They waited around until the right school came along. I think both will be able to step onto the field and contribute as freshmen."

Thompson visited WSSU nearly two weeks before national signing day. He didn't hear anything from the Rams' coaching staff and was ready to "end the stress" when St. Augustine's faxed the paperwork to him.

Just as Thompson began to sign the documents with the Division II school, WSSU called back. The program's No. 1 fullback recruit had signed with the University of Maryland.

Thompson will remain a Ram.

Walston also seemed destined to sign with St. Augustine's, but he and his father decided to make one last visit. They headed down to Pembroke for a one-day tryout and Walston drew immediate attention from the coaching staff.

Walston committed when he returned to school the following Monday.

"I really liked the school and the environment, and I had a really good day at the workout," said Walston, who entertained thoughts of walking on at East Carolina. "I was ready to get it over with."

Elon University courted Sutton for an extended period of time. But stipulations from Elon and other schools prompted the 230-pound defensive end to keep his options open.

After a Friday night basketball game, Bryant and a sleepy-eyed Sutton headed to Raleigh to meet two Catawba coaches. Sutton arrived at campus in the wee hours of the morning. His bloodshot eyes quickly popped open when he saw members of the football team waiting for him.

"It was like a family already," said Sutton. "Everyone introduced themselves and I shook hands with about 30 players. I went from room to room to room that night. The defensive coordinator wanted me to spend the night at his house, and talk defense.

"I guess they thought I was there for one day. I wanted to get some sleep. But I felt more comfortable and more at home there than anywhere else."

Bryant is excited for "The Trio," which is part of his first freshman class.

"They've done an outstanding job in the weight room, been leaders at practice and are a big part of the success we've had the last four years," said Bryant.

"The Trio" helped the Rams earn back-to-back Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championships in 2004 and 2005. They made three consecutive appearances in the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.

Sutton received the EPC's defensive player of the year as a junior and senior, and grabbed a spot on the 2006 Associated Press All-State team. Walston and Thompson also garnered all-EPC honors as juniors and seniors.

"The Trio," admittedly, is looking forward to college. They understand the level of commitment necessary to succeed and credit coach Bryant for preparing them to play beyond high school. They also feel they've helped set the standard for recruiting at Greene Central.

Once college practice begins in August, football and study halls will consume each player's life. They'll have very little time for social gatherings, but plan to stay in touch via cell phone or e-mail. Each plans to see the other play during their off weeks.

Until then happens, they'll continue to eat together, laugh at movies and sweat during track practice and meets this spring.

"All the awards that we've gotten, after June 10 when we walk across that stage, don't mean anything if you can't go to college and do your best like you did here (at Greene Central)," said Sutton. "I'm looking forward to the competition."