More Than A Hoop State
North Carolina has developed a rich basketball history over the years and Winston-Salem is just one of the many talent hotbeds in the state.
Recently though Winston has seen a surplus in talent on the gridiron, and this past NFL off season was a serious indicator. Three native sons agreed to contracts with NFL teams as signed draft picks as well as undrafted free agents. Josh Hawkins, Alex McCalister, and Doug Middleton are all currently in training camp for their respective squads.
The odds of most athletes suiting up for an NFL team are slim the odds of three players from the same city all accomplishing that feat in the same year are slim to none. These three gentlemen have certainly defied the odds and inspired an entire community in the process.
All of them followed different paths from SEC, to FCS, and even the mid major ranks. McCalister came in boasting the most hype of the three. An athletic freak since his prep school days at West Forsyth high he was a force on the defensive line and caught the eye of some major programs around the nation.
After turning down a host of ACC schools the talented edge rusher settled on the Florida Gators and compiled a solid career in limited time. In McCalister’s last two season he recorded 12.5 sacks 17.5 tackles for a loss. These numbers were good enough to tie a team high his senior year and earn serious draft consideration after only playing in nine games.
The Philadelphia Eagles were thrilled to see the former Gator slip all the way to them in the seventh round and they snagged him with the 240th pick. At 6’6 and 240ibs he is an intriguing prospect at the DE position although still fundamentally raw there is a lot to like about his natural athletic ability.
Hawkins and Middleton were signed as undrafted rookies by their respective teams after stellar collegiate careers in their own respect.
Reigning out of Robert B. Glenn High School Hawkins was a stud on both sides of the ball lining up at running back and defensive back for the Bobcats. He turned down some lower level offers and bet on himself as a walk-on at ECU. The Pirates program has been making some serious noise in recent years knocking off top competition in the state.
After earning a spot on the team Hawkins progressed every year until he transformed himself into the top DB on the team, week after week he was matched up against the opposing team’s best pass catcher. In his senior season with the Pirates Hawkins was named to the Jim Thorpe watch list along with some of the other top DB’s in all of college football. The man known as “Hawk” snagged seven interceptions in his last two seasons in Greenville.
Now once again he’s betting on himself and the rookie has already been catching eyes in his young Packers career, he is expected to earn a spot on the final 53 man roster.
“Josh Hawkins was the more interesting selection. Hawkins was given some benefit of the doubt as a sure tackler. Recent cornerback additions show a certain love for cornerbacks who can be tough and make sure tackles, and Hawkins’ good ball skills make him appealing as well.” said J.E. Barnett of SB nation.
Middleton picked the Appalachian State Mountaineers after wrapping up an impressive prep career at Parkland high school. While at App he was exposed to an array of talent as they made the transition to division I during his tenure. ASU was a powerhouse at the bowl subdivision level and have produced some serious talent in past years. After receiving a medical redshirt his sophomore year he battled back and produced big over the next three seasons at safety and kick return. The hard hitting safety finished his senior year with 48 total tackles and was also named to the Thorpe watch list for top DB’s.
The New York Jets were impressed with Middleton’s skillset and offered him a contract to sign with the team after the draft. So far he has begun to earn the respect and praise of fellow teammates
“I think he has a loose screw at times. But at the same time he’s one of those types of guys that when he sees the ball, he’s going to get it. He has a very high intensity level.” “Calvin Pryor on Doug Middleton, an undrafted safety from Appalachian State.” via Chris Iseman of The Record Journal news.
These three playmakers aren’t the first or the last to be drafted out of the Tre-4 and we’ll all be watching paying close attention to their journeys.