Orange Football

Former Orange linebacker Wilson drafted in 3rd round by Pittsburgh Steelers

Photo by Chad and Tracey Wilson 

The speculation is over and the mock drafts are now pointless.

Payton Wilson has become the highest-selected Hillsborough product ever chosen in the NFL Draft.

Wilson was picked in the third round, 98th overall, by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night in Detroit. He leaves N.C. State after a historic senior season which saw him earn numerous postseason accolades.

In December, Wilson was the winner of the Butkus Award, which recognizes the top linebacker in college football. Wilson was also won the Chuck Bednarik Award for best overall Defensive Player. He was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and had double-digit tackles in nine of his final 12 games for the Wolfpack.

He is the first N.C. State linebacker to be selected in the NFL Draft since Germaine Pratt in 2019.

Wilson watched the draft with his father Chad, a former Orange High nose tackle who graduated in 1990, and his mother Tracey.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, there were mock drafts that listed Wilson as a potential late second-round pick. On Saturday, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Wilson doesn’t have an ACL in one of his knees.

Wilson first tore his ACL late in his senior season in a game at Cedar Ridge. He was injured as he delivered the opening kickoff and never played for the Panthers again. He missed Orange’s loss to Cape Fear, the last time a football state playoff game was contested inside Auman Stadium.

“He was a guy we had high on our board,” said Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Teryl Austin during a press conference on Friday. “We liked him as a football player. Obviously very productive, fast, really has good football instincts and everything you want in a football player. To see him where he was and have the opportunity to get him, we thought that was a good thing.”

Wilson is the second Orange High product to be selected in the NFL Draft in modern history. The only other one is Alvis Whitted, who was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 7th round of the 1998 Draft out of N.C. State. Whitted went on to become the only Orange Panther to ever play in the Super Bowl. As a member of the Oakland Raiders, he was on special teams in Super Bowl XXXVII against Tampa Bay in 2003, the so-called “Gruden Bowl” where then-Tampa head coach Jon Gruden faced his former team. Whitted now the wide receivers coach at the University of Utah.

Wilson was a three-sport athlete at Orange. In 2016, he was a junior on the first Orange team to have a perfect regular season in 38 years. He registered 127 tackles and 39 tackles for loss, along with 13 sacks. Playing alongside defensive end Stone Edwards (whose career at Vanderbilt was cut short due to an ankle injury) and Keshawn Thompson (who played at Campbell for five years), the Orange defense allowed just two offensive touchdowns in eleven regular season games en route to the Big 8 Championship.

Legendary Orange wrestling coach Bobby Shriner’s final match came when Wilson won the 220-pound state championship in 2017 at the Greensboro Coliseum. In a crazy finish, Wilson led Hickory Ridge’s Dan Louba 4-3 in the final second of the third period. Louba shot in for a takedown as the clock expired. The referees ruled he scored the takedown before the final buzzer, momentarily giving Louba a 5-4 win for the state championship. And the first person to beat Wilson all year.

In a scene eerily similar to the Dusty Rhodes finishes in the Greensboro Coliseum during the mid-1980s, Louba began celebrating with his coaches. Meanwhile, Shriner appealed to the tournament director. Even though there were two referees, neither of them watched the clock as it ran out. The mat maids from Eden Morehead High (which, in another irony, had been a huge rival of Orange) said the clock had expired before Louba scored the takedown.

Wilson was declared the winner, Shriner’s 24th individual state champion. A month later, Shriner retired.

Wilson was also a lacrosse midfielder for two seasons, where he was particularly effective on faceoffs.

The selection by Pittsburgh continues the Wilson family’s unusual ties with the Steel City. Wilson’s older brother, Bryse, made his major league pitching debut for the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park in 2018 against the Pirates. Wilson won the opening game against Pittsburgh, throwing five innings. In July 2021, Bryse was traded to Pittsburgh, where he would spend the next 18 months before being designated for assignment and signing with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he has become an effective arm out of the bullpen.

Orange defensive end Malykahi Justice signs with St. Andrews football

Malykahi Justice was a quick study in his Orange football career. He played for just two seasons, but in that short amount of time he was able to earn All-Central Conference honors in his senior season. In 2023, Justice led the Panthers with ten sacks as a defensive end. After football season ended, Justice became a regular rotation player for the Orange men’s basketball team, serving as a forward while Coleman Cloer missed the first month of the season with an ankle injury. He helped Orange win its season-opener against Hillside and claimed a road win at Northern Durham. The Panthers would go on to win the Central Conference regular season and tournament championships. They also won a game in the 3A State Playoffs for the first times since 2016. On Friday, April 19, Justice officially signed to play football with St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, an NAIA school. During a ceremony inside Orange High School’s Gymnasium, Malykhai was joined by his mother, Asia, and his father, Jeffrey. Malykhai will continue to work hard in Laurinburg as he moves forward with his football career. His sister, Iyauna, has qualified for the regional track and field championships in the shot put even though she just started playing the sport this year. 

Orange football’s Nate and Jaylan Sorrells discuss signing with Mars Hill

Nate and Jaylan Sorrells were raised together. They attended school together. They played football together. So it was only natural that they signed together to play football at Mars Hill College. Their father, who was raised in Georgia, played football at Mars Hill. Nate Sorrells was a four-year varsity player for the Panthers. He endured the difficult pandemic year, where the Panthers played games during the spring. Nate scored his first touchdown against Cedar Ridge. He went on to score eight touchdowns in his career. This week, Nate secured a conference championship with the Orange lacrosse team, where he is playing his first season. Jaylan barely had a play off for Orange the past two seasons. He played on the offensive and defensive lines. Last year, Jaylan finished with 45 tackles in his senior year. In addition, Jaylan has finished first in several outdoor track and field meets this year. He competes in the shot put and the discuss for the Panthers and is trying to qualify for regionals, which will be held in Pembroke next month. Jaylan and Nate were instrumental in helping Orange football coach DeVante Pettiford get his program established after he took over for Van Smith in 2022. A signing ceremony was held for Jaylan and Nate inside Orange High Gymnasium on April 12.

Alumni Update: Wilson opens eyes at NFL Combine

Photo courtesy of NBC Sports 

Payton Wilson: At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this weekend, the former Orange High linebacker was among the names who increased their stock for April’s NFL Draft. Wilson completed the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, the fastest among all linebackers. That placed him in the 98th percentile in terms of speed. Wilson also graded out in the 90th percentile in both on-field coverage and tackling. Wilson, Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper and Michigan’s Junior Colson are considered the top off-ball linebackers coming out of the combine, according to NBC Sports.

Joey Berini:  The East Carolina baseball team went 2-1 at the LeClair Classic at Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville over the weekend. The Pirates defeated Purdue 7-1 on Friday. ECU edged Cal State Fullerton 2-1 in eleven innings on Saturday. Southeastern Louisiana jumped out to a big lead early and held off the Pirates 11-9 on Sunday. Berini started all three games at shortstop. The Pirates are 7-4.

Dante DeFranco: The Charlotte 49ers dropped two out of three games in a weekend series to Old Dominion at Bud Metheney Park in Norfolk, VA. DeFranco entered Friday’s opening game as a reserve. a 4-2 Charlotte win, in right field. DeFranco started at 2nd base in Saturday’s game, which the Monarchs won 4-1. DeFranco played as a reserve on Sunday as Old Dominion took the series 3-0. The 49ers are 6-6.

Jackson Berini: The Gaston College baseball team is now ranked #3 in Division II of the National Junior College Athletic Association. The Rhinos claimed two walkoff wins over Frontier Community College over the weekend. Berini went 1-for-1, starting at 2nd base as Gaston won 6-5 in six innings at Sims Legion Park on Saturday. The game was shortened to six innings because the opening game of the doubleheader went 17 innings, which the Rhinos won 8-7. Berini went 2-for-4 with a double and scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the 17th when he was driven in by Trent Murchison. Berini tied the game in the bottom of the 14th with an RBI ground out to first base. On Sunday, Gaston swept another doubleheader from the Bobcats. The Rhinos are 20-2 and have won eleven in a row.

Davis Horton: The Rockingham Community College Eagles salvaged a game against the Caldwell Community College Cobras on Saturday. The Eagles won 8-5 on Saturday. Horton scored three runs with a triple in the first inning, which put the Eagles ahead 5-0. Caldwell defeated Rockingham 8-0 on Sunday. Horton, starting at catcher, went 2-for-4. Rockingham is 5-14.

Owen Rasinske: The former Orange High swimmer is now a junior with Division II Barton College in Wilson. Last month, Barton’s men’s swimming team finished second in the Conference Carolinas Championships in Kingsport, Tennessee. Rasinske was part of the 400 yard freestyle relay team that was named All-Conference. Rasinske, Ethan Robinson, Ryan Mcanallen and Ethan Maddrey finished 3rd in the conference championships with a time of 3:04.97.

Roman Oguntoyinbo: After a year at a prep school, the former Cedar Ridge lacrosse midfielder has enrolled at Queen’s University in Charlotte, which is now a Division I school.

Chase Finley: The Division II Shorter University men’s lacrosse team improved to 7-1 with a 16-11 win over Thomas More University in Rome, GA on Saturday. Finley, starting as goalkeeper, made 12 saves for his seventh win of the season. On February 28, Shorter defeated Emmanuel 16-6. Finley earned another victory by making 13 saves. Shorter already has more wins this season than the 2022 and 2023 campaigns combined.

Tigh Metheney: The Division II Catawba College men’s lacrosse team defeated Tusculum 18-5 at Shuford Stadium in Salisbury on February 24. Metheney, a former Orange midfielder, scored two goals with four shots on goal. Catawba is 3-2 after an overtime loss to Barton College on Saturday.

Cy Horner: The Division III Methodist men’s lacrosse team defeated Warren Wilson 26-1 on Saturday at Monarch Stadium in Fayetteville. It was the first win for new head coach Ryan McKay. Horner had two goals and one assist on nine shots, seven of which were on goal. Methodist is 1-4.

Josiah Tisdale: The former Orange High defenseman is now a freshman with Methodist. He had two ground balls against Warren Wilson. Tisdale made his first college start against Randolph-Macon at Day Field in Ashland, VA on Wednedsay. The Yellow Jackets won 21-1.


Alumni Update: Wilson officially ends N.C. State career, other comings and goings

Payton Wilson: On Sunday, Wilson officially announced he will not play in the Pop-Tart Bowl for #19 N.C. State against Kansas State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl in Orlando on Thursday. In a statement, Wilson said he would be in attendance for the contest but will rest to prepare for the NFL Draft combine in February. Wilson’s announcement concludes five years at N.C. State which started when he enrolled in January 2018, three months after his last football game at Orange High against Cedar Ridge. In his freshman season in 2019, Wilson led N.C. State in tackles even though he came off the bench in all but one game. He had 14 tackles against North Carolina, which tied the team-high for the season. During the pandemic season of 2020, Wilson was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer. He became the first N.C. State player to lead the ACC in tackles per game since 2000, averaging 10.8. He ranked fourth in FBS in overall tackles. He also led N.C. State with eleven tackles for loss per game. After Wilson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Mississippi State in 2021, Wilson ranked 15th in the ACC in tackles per game. This year may have been the greatest season by any N.C. State defensive player ever. Wilson won the Chuck Bednarik Award for the Best Defensive Player in the country as well as the Dick Butkus Award for the best linebacker. Wilson was also the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He ranked fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 138 tackles and led the ACC with 17.5 tackles for loss. He also notched six sacks, ten pass break-ups, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.

Trenton Gill: The former Cedar Ridge punter helped the Chicago Bears defeat the Arizona Cardinals 27-16 on Christmas Eve at Solider Field. Gill had five punts for an average of 52 yards. His longest was a whopping 76 yards. Two were downed inside the 20-yard line. One went for a touchback. Gill is 24th in the NFL averaging 45.9 yards per punt. He has had 16 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. The Bears are 6-9 and will face the Atlanta Falcons in its final home game of the season on New Year’s Eve.

Grace Young: Young has announced that she is transferring from UNC Asheville after one season with the Bulldogs. As a freshman at UNCA, Young played in 22 matches and 46 sets. She had 52 digs and five aces. Young was the libero for the Cedar Ridge Red Wolves for three seasons. As a junior, she was the defensive specialist for the 2021 3A State Championship team that defeated North Iredell 3-1 at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. Young has three years of eligibility remaining.

Joey McMullin: After four games with Division III Methodist, McMullin announced he was retiring from basketball. McMullin, who is the last player from Orange High to score 1,000 career points, started two games for the Monarchs. In two seasons with Sandhills Community College, McMullin helped the Flyers to the NJCAAA Division III Tournament twice. In 2021-2022, McMullin was named the Region 10 Player of the Year. He was a two-time All-Region X Player. McMullin started his college career with Division III Bryn Athyn College in Philadelphia, where he left after the 2020-2021 season.

Emerson Talley: The Division II Lenoir-Rhyne women’s soccer team reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II Tournament. In an incredible comeback, the Bears roared back from four goals down to tie Florida Tech at Rick Stottler Field in Melbourne, FL on December 3rd. But the Panthers scored the game-winning goal with three minutes left in regulation to win 5-4 in the national quarterfinal. Talley started and played 25 minutes. This season, Talley started in all 23 matches for the Bears. She played 1,433 minutes and had three assists. She had eight shots on goal. Last week, it was announced that Lenior-Rhyne head coach Dean Ward had resigned in order to become the new head coach at Xavier. Ward had been the head coach with the Bears for two seasons.

Braden Homsey: After a successful wrestling career with the Division III Ferrum Panthers, Homsey has started as an assistant coach with Ferrum. Currently, Ferrum is 3-2 after wins over Waynesburg, Emory & Henry and Fairmont State.

Wilson wins Butkus, Bednarik Awards, named unanimous first-team All-American

He won a state championship in the last match that Bobby Shriner ever coached for Orange wrestling.

He was a midfielder for Orange men’s lacrosse, mainly focusing on face-offs.

Most of all, Payton Wilson did a little bit of everything for Orange High’s football team from the moment he made his debut in the 2014 3A State Playoffs against Corinth-Holders in Wendell. Wilson spent that year on the junior varsity. He got the call up to the varsity for the state playoffs, where he would play alongside his brother, Bryse, on defense.

He instantly made an impact.

Now, Wilson has become the most decorated college football player to ever come out of Hillsborough.

After a season where he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles and tackles for loss with the N.C. State Wolfpack, Wilson has become just the fourth unanimous first-team All-American in Wolfpack history. Last week, Wilson was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press, the only ACC player honored.

Two weeks ago at halftime of the N.C. State men’s basketball team’s win over Maryland-Eastern Shore at Reynolds Coliseum, Wilson was surprised by head coach Dave Doeren as the winner of the Dick Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker. Wilson was honored at halftime of the game for being nominated for the Butkus Award, unaware that he had actually already earned the honor until Doeren show up with the trophy moments later.

On December 8, Wilson won the Chuck Bednarik Award during ESPN’s College Football Awards Show at the Maxwell Football Club. The Bednarik Award is awarded annually to the nation’s best top defensive player.

He is the first player in N.C. State history to earn the Butkus Award and the Bednarik Award.

The ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Wilson led the ACC with 138 tackles in 2023, fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He averaged 11.5 tackles per game for a Wolfpack team that finished 9-3, winning its final five games including victories over Clemson, Miami and North Carolina.

Wilson led the ACC with 17.5 tackles for loss. He also had six sacks, broke up ten passes, and pulled down three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.

Wilson has likely played his final game for the Wolfpack. N.C. State, ranked #19 by the Associated Press, is slated to face Kansas State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl in Miami on December 28. However, Wilson is expected to opt out to focus on staying healthy for the NFL Draft in April.

Wilson won three straight conference championships during his stint at Orange in 2015, 2016 and 2017. As a junior in 2016, he got to focus primarily on defense under head coach Pat Moser and defensive coordinator Van Smith. It was arguably the greatest Orange football team in school history with the Wilsons sharing time at linebacker, along with defensive end Stone Edwards, who would go on to play at Vanderbilt before an ankle injury cut his career in Nashville short.

The Panthers became the first team since 1978 to finish undefeated in the regular season, roaring through its six Big 8 Conference games allowing just 13 points and one touchdown. Orange thumped Southern Durham 49-7 inside Spartans Stadium on September 23, 2017, a game where Wilson returned a punt for a touchdown. It ended a run of five straight wins by the Spartans over the Panthers, including two tight games in the state playoffs in a rivalry that defined that generation locally on the gridiron.

Southern Durham’s Kendall Hinton, who would go on to play at Wake Forest and with the Denver Broncos, was the Spartans’ starting quarterback.

In his senior year, Wilson was the starting linebacker, returned punts, was the placekicker, punter and eventually became the starting quarterback at midseason. He led Orange to its third straight Big 8 Conference title. Among the highlights of that year was the Panthers beating Hillside at Russell Blunt Stadium in Durham, which ended the Hornets 48-game conference winning streak. Wilson rushed for two touchdowns in the Panthers 31-20 victory.

Orange Middle’s Amir Johnson, Mason Stubbs, Markus Thomas & Owen Phillipps discuss winning OPAC Championship

The Orange Middle School Chargers claimed the Orange Person Athletic Conference championship last week. The Chargers defeated Culbreth 24-6 at Auman Stadium in Hillsborough. 8th grader Owen Phillipps had a huge all-around night for OMS. Playing four different positions, Phillipps finished with 61 yards rushing and 52 yards receiving. Phillipps caught a 52-yard touchdown pass to open the game after Amir Johnson recovered a Culbreth fumble on the opening play from scrimmage. Later Phillippps would play quarterback out of a wildcat formation and helped the Chargers run out the clock. Starting quarterback Mason Stubbs, an 8th-grader, threw a 13-yard touchdown assist to Markus Thomas. Stubbs scored the final touchdown off a 1-yard run on a quarterback sneak. Thomas ran in a 2-point conversion on the point-after to give the Chargers a three-score lead. 7th grader Amir Johnson had a strong all-around game. He recovered a fumble, made two sacks and ran in another 2-point conversion. Orange Middle claimed its first OPAC football championship since 2015 under first-year head coach Jamie Bailey. The Chargers lost only one game all season and defeated Culbreth twice.  In October, Orange Middle came back from a 12-0 halftime deficit to defeat the Cougars 18-12.

Return to Glory–Phillipps, Johnson power Orange Middle past Culbreth 24-6 to win OPAC Football Championship

For the first time in years, it felt like a big football game at Auman Stadium.

On Thursday night, the Orange Middle School Chargers returned to glory after eight years without an Orange Person Athletic Conference championship.

Owen Phillipps caught a touchdown pass and finished with 113 yards from scrimmage, while 7th grader Amir Johnson rushed for a touchdown and recovered a fumble as Orange Middle pulled away from Culbreth 24-6 to win the OPAC Championship.

Quarterback Mason Stubbs created two touchdowns, one rushing and one passing, as the Chargers celebrated its first OPAC title since 2015.

It was a gratifying win for Orange head coach Jamie Bailey, who served as an assistant coach at Orange High for 17 years under head coaches Pat Moser and Van Smith, including a stint as defensive coordinator. Bailey completed his first year as Orange Middle’s head coach with a long-awaited championship.

“It’s a beautiful thing to bring this championship back to Orange County,” Bailey said. “Orange County football needed this.”

Playing 8-minute quarters, Orange Middle used a ground control offense to limit the Cougars to only five plays from scrimmage in the entire second half.

Leading 16-6 at halftime, the Chargers controlled the ball the entire third quarter, converting three 3rd downs and a fourth down. Stubbs threw to Wyatt Moore for a 12-yard gain on a 3rd-and-nine to advance the ball into Culbreth territory. After Jakai Torian gained six yards on a 3rd-and-8, Phillipps took the ball out of a wildcat formation, which Bailey installed last week, and ran around right end for 13 yards on 4th-and-2.

Going into the fourth quarter, on a 3rd-and-12, Phillips gained nine yards. Culbreth jumped offside on 4th-and-3 to move the chains again. Stubbs grinder ahead on a quarterback sneak and just inched over the goal line for a touchdown to conclude a 13-play, 60-yard drive that took 9:46 off the clock. Markus Thomas scored the two-point conversion on a jet sweep.

Johnson recovered two fumbles, including one on the opening play from scrimmage at the Cougars 48-yard line. On 4th-and-14, Brandon Robbins took the ball on a halfback option and chucked it ahead to Phillipps, who dashed into the heart of the end zone. Markus Thomas scored the 2-point conversion to put the Chargers ahead.

After Culbreth scored a touchdown following a Charger fumble, Orange scored a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining in the first half. Stubbs threw to Thomas on a 13-yard pass. Johnson added the 2-point conversion, then ended the half by sacking Culbreth’s quarterback.

The championship wasn’t merely a squad beating other teams from Roxboro, Chapel Hill and Carrboro for a trophy. It marks the climb out of a dark hole for football within northern Orange County that started during the pandemic and, in some respects, continues.

For the first time possibly ever, there was no junior varsity football team at Orange High School this year. Not long ago, Thursday night lights shined brightest at Orange. The junior varsity teams in the mid-2010s went years without losing a game.

In August 2021, after the entire middle school athletic calendar for the 2020-2021 academic year was canceled due to the pandemic, Bailey was riding to an Orange practice one day when he saw roughly 20 players at an Orange Middle workout.

He felt a chill go across his heart.

“It used to be there would be around 100 players at a Stanford practice,” Bailey said.

That’s what led him to start coaching at the middle school level.

“I wanted to get back to that because that’s what going to feed into high school football in Hillsborough,” Bailey said. That’s what we need back in this county.”

This year, the Orange Chargers suited up 45 players for a championship team.