CHAPEL HILL — Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium felt a little bit like a Rockingham County family reunion of sorts, as five former area high school players from Reidsville and Morehead came together on the same field at the North Carolina versus Appalachian State football game.
Reidsville had four former players suited up — two for the Tar Heels (Austyn Chestnut and Quiron Johnson), in addition to a pair for the Mountaineers (Noel Cook and Tanner Wilson). Another former player from Morehead, George Blackstock, currently garners the black and gold for ASU as well.
Wilson, Chestnut and Johnson were all on Reidsville’s undefeated 16-0 2A NCHSAAA state championship team.
Regardless of their past or current team affiliations, all five players have one other thing in common. All were initially walk-on players. To date, Cook, Blackstock and Chestnut have all been awarded scholarships and Wilson and Johnson are hoping to do the same in the future.
Just making the team wasn’t easy, and although all have not earned significant playing time yet, each has showed through their hard work that they are continuing to carve out a role on their teams.
No. 20 Noel Cook: Senior outside linebacker — Appalachian State
Cook made his first appearance as a Mountaineer against Miami in 2016, and due to his solid play, he saw action in nine games at linebacker and special teams.
He eventually earned a spot as not only a defensive starter, but team captain as well this season.
During his playing days at Reidsville, Cook was a three-time Mid-State 2A All Conference selection and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year during his senior season in 2015 for the Rams.
During that final season he led the team in tackles with 122. None of Cook’s development or success comes as much of a surprise to his former head coach Jimmy Teague.
“One thing that stood out to me about Noel when he played for me, and one of the things that stood out to me at Saturday’s game as well, is that he’s always in the right spot at the right time. He’s one of those guys that you can always count on, knowing exactly what you need him to do and I think that is exactly what he did for Appalachian on Saturday. He was never out of position. He’s just a consistent guy and you know what you are going to get out of Noel on every snap,” Teague said.
No. 95 George Blackstock: Sophomore defensive tackle — Appalachian State
After red shirting in 2017, Blackstock appeared in 10 games on the defensive line and made nine stops including three tackles for loss against Gardner-Webb. He played in each of the final six games for Appalachian State in 2018.
This season Blackstock has seen more time and he made an impact in Saturday’s 34-31 win over North Carolina, making three tackles.
In high school for Morehead, Blackstock was a three-time Mid-State 3A All Conference selection and was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year. In addition, he was a four-time state qualifier on the Panthers wrestling team. On the mat he was a four-time All Conference performer and the team’s MVP. In his senior season for the Panthers he finished in third place in the heavy weight division in the 3A NCHSAA state championships.
Blackstock was never a vocal leader in high school, but always exhibited a steely resolve on the gridiron and wrestling mat.
His former high school wrestling coach, Daniel Bradford, who is the current McMichael head football coach, echoed that sentiment.
“He’s got a heck of a work ethic and he’s a guy that you want to be around your wrestling program or your football team or any of those things because he’s going to show everyone else the way. If they are not working, he’s going to punish them for not working by using his physical stature. Everything that George has done, has worked for and I’m super proud of him. With the scholarship, I haven’t had the chance to talk with him, but at the end of the day, everything that he has accomplished, he has definitely earned,” Bradford said.
No. 10 Tanner Wilson: Sophomore quarterback — Appalachian State
Wilson is currently serving as a backup quarterback trying to climb up the depth chart, but he does have a role on the sidelines with a head set, working with the coordinators learning the college game. Known for his tireless work ethic from his playing days at Reidsville, where he led his team to the 2016 2A NCHSAA state title, Wilson has all the tools. In that final 16-0 senior season, Wilson completed 153 of 236 passes for 2,523 yards with 37 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
In the championship game he completed 10 of 16 passes for 108 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown in a 58-12 win over Edenton Holmes.
He was named the Offensive Player of the Year for the Rams and was a two-time Mid-State 2A All Conference selection.
“He’s a really talented player and a great young man. He was a leader for us for sure even though he was only here for two years, he led us to a state championship and he’s just a very talented quarterback. He’s one of the biggest talents I’ve been around since I’ve been here,” Teague said.
No. 19 Austyn Chestnut: Sophomore wide receiver / return specialist — North Carolina
In 2018 Chestnut saw action versus Western Carolina and N.C. State, and it appeared early on that he would get significant playing time in 2019. Unfortunately he broke a bone in his arm and then suffered a hamstring injury this past summer.
Despite those setbacks, the coaching staff at North Carolina still awarded him a scholarship, and it appears he may soon be able to get back on the field as a kick and punt returner or at the slot receiver position.
Chestnut tied a state record as a senior at Reidsville with seven special teams touchdowns and was Wilson’s main go-to threats in the Rams 2016 championship season. He had 12 touchdowns as a receiver in addition to six interceptions on defense as a cornerback. Chestnut was a 2016 AP All-State selection in his final season at Reidsville.
“His fiery competitiveness and I guess fearless attitude is the best way to describe Austyn. Punt returns or whatever, he was never going to back down from anything. Being a little bit under sized by their standards (UNC), but he fought like heck to get to where he is at Carolina. I think just being a fiery competitor is what I think about most when I think about him,” Teague said.
No. 69 Quiron Johnson: Sophomore defensive lineman / special teams — North Carolina
Johnson, who was also on the 2016 2A NCHSAA state title team with Wilson and Chestnut, was a walk-on as well. He has worked with both the offensive and defensive line and special teams already this season and may be on track to earn a scholarship as well.
In high school he was a four-year varsity starter, earned Mid-State 2A All Conference honors and was also named to the All-Area offensive lineman as a junior. Teague said Johnson was an anchor on both sides of the ball for the Rams and he’s not surprised he’s already earning playing time.
“Probably his passion for the game is what sets him apart. Anything you ask him to do, he’s willing to do it. Down there (UNC) they have moved him around from offensive line to defensive line a bunch, and through all those moves, he just keeps a positive attitude and keeps working hard. I know they have a lot of respect to Quiron down there,” Teague said.