|ROCKY MOUNT - B.W. Holt and Chad Smith were beaming like new fathers. You could see nothing but pride in their eyes.
Last Wednesday, they watched two pillars of Rocky Mount's successful football program announce to the world that they were moving on.
In the school's library, senior offensive linemen Nazir Levine and Kendall Noble signed letters-of-intent to play college football at Div. I-AA Winston-Salem State and Norfolk State, respectively. Both schools are members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Levine, at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, made his choice after sifting through programs at Coastal Carolina, Western Carolina, N.C. Central and Catawba. At 6-4, and 275 pounds, Noble mulled over offers from NCCU, Western Carolina and Winston-Salem State before choosing the Spartans.
Holt, the Gryphons' head coach and Smith, their former offensive line coach who still teaches at Rocky Mount but will head Northern Nash's program next season, were almost giddy.
They both have played father-figure roles in both players' lives, so they couldn't help but be emotional and proud about the twosome's special day.
"They are what this program is all about," said Smith, who spotted the talents of both in summer workouts just before their freshman season. "They are the cornerstones of what we have accomplished here. At the first camp we ran here, I saw those two first. They impressed me then and they continued to work hard for four years.
"If kids anywhere buy into the way we wanted things done the way they did here, where they go will have successful programs," said Smith, who played on the offensive line his college days. "I have no idea why the larger Div. I schools didn't recruit them. Apparently, Div. I coaches know a lot more than me because I honestly think they could play at those schools.
"Norfolk State and Winston-Salem State are getting steals. Football is football and they will be successful at any level they play at."
"They were great role models for the rest of our kids," said Holt, who saw the duo help Rocky Mount set school records for total offense not once, but twice during their tenure as Gryphons. "They had a great work ethic and are great leaders. They have worked hard and the best thing about it is that they are sitting here with better than 3.0 GPAs. They have qualified to play and there will be no waiting game with these two."
"They 'are' student-athletes."
Levine, who last December became the first Rocky Mount lineman to play in the Shrine Bowl in 25 years, won't be lonely when he hits the campus in Winston-Salem. He'll be joining former Gryphons Wayne Noble Jr., Kendall's brother, Brian Jones and Bryant Bayne in the Rams' family. The trio will be redshirt-sophomores next season.
"I just feel blessed to have an opportunity to play football at the college level and be given a chance at a college education, said Levine, whose mother Lois passed away just 13 days before he signed. "I'm just ready to go to the next level. My mom went with me on all the official visits, but she told me to make the best decision for me. She left it up to me.
"I picked Winston-Salem because the coaches maintained contact with me throughout the recruiting process," said the NCPreps.com All-Stater who sports a 3.7 GPA. "They were the first to offer me a scholarship. They liked the way I played and they felt I could help them the most. Wayne, Brian and Bryant were feeding the coaches info on me and they kept telling them that I was a winner and that they'd better take this 'kid'."
Noble, as a three-year starter at Rocky Mount, helped the Gryphons compile a glowing 35-7 record. He also impressed the Spartans' staff, which guided NSU to a lackluster 4-7 record in 2006. But it was his official visit that wowed him.
"On my visit there, the town, the facilities, the school, the players ... they were all so nice and it felt comfortable," said Noble, who wants to major in physical therapy. "I felt I could spend the next four or five years of my life there and be happy. I just want to go there and be the best player I can be.
"They run a lot of power and counters there, which is similar to what we did here at Rocky Mount," Noble said. "So I know I can pick up their blocking schemes quickly.''