RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Payton Wilson terrorized opposing offenses while playing linebacker at Orange High School.
But he always seemed to find the time to keep an eye on another linebacker who played down the road from him – Drake Thomas at Heritage High School.
“We always kept up with each other, looking at each other’s stats and seeing who was doing better,” Wilson admitted. “We just kept up with each other seeing who was getting recruited and where.”
Wilson is a year older than Thomas but the two would often find themselves together at camps like the Nike Open in Charlotte.
It was at events like this where Wilson and Thomas would dream of what the future held for them.
“We’ve always talked about playing together,” explained Wilson. “But during the recruiting process, we never bothered each other because we just knew we were going to end up where we end up.”
Like the University of North Carolina?
Wilson originally committed to the Tar Heels before choosing the Wolfpack.
Thomas too was very interested in Carolina.
Getting Wilson to flip to N.C. State was huge for the program.
“Anytime you get an elite in-state football player it’s a big deal for your football team,” N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren admitted. “He’s just a really tough, hard-working, physical, blue-collar kid and we’re really fortunate to get him here and glad he’s here.”
Once Doeren reeled in Wilson, he figured he’d have a better shot at getting Thomas to commit the following year.
“I do think these kids in-state get to know each other very well,” Doeren said. “You know we’ve built our classes here, there have been a lot of kids that have recruited each other to play together.”
And that’s what happened with Wilson and Thomas.
Two rough and tumble linebackers happy to be on the same team.
“Now that I get to play with him it’s awesome he’s a great player,” Wilson said. “Similar play style, loves to play football, plays hard, hits hard and it’s just great playing with him.”
It’s what both have wanted for a long, long time.
“Looking back we’re still friends if not best friends,” said Wilson. “It’s just crazy to see both or our dreams turn into reality.”