The East Surry football team has plenty of standouts returning from its run to the NCHSAA Class 1-AA state championship game last season.
Two of those, however, are making an unexpected return.
Brothers Stephen and Benjamin Gosnell are back with the team after both transferred in January to Carroll County in Virginia.
Stephen is a rising senior wide receiver who committed to N.C. State in mid-June, and Benjamin is a sophomore.
The decision to re-enroll at East Surry was sudden, according to Stephen. It stemmed from a family meeting on July 31 — a day before teams in North Carolina could hold their first fall practices, according to rules established by the NCHSAA.
The Gosnell brothers transferred to Carroll County because their father, Tommy, is a minister at Skyline Pentecostal Holiness Church in Meadows of Dan, Va. The decision to move from their home in Pilot Mountain — a nearly hour-long commute — was so the family could be closer to the area.
According to Stephen, who was one of two junior quarterbacks last season along with Jefferson Boaz, he pleaded his case daily to re-enroll at East Surry. While the family lived in Virginia, it retained ownership of its home in Pilot Mountain, he said.
It made for a smoother return to East Surry.
“Obviously me and Benji always wanted to come back ... But we kind of explained everything, and why it would be good for us,” said Stephen, who is rated a 3-star prospect per 247Sports. “We basically went to Carroll (County), un-enrolled and got my stuff out of my locker, came to East Surry and filled out my papers.”
According to Stephen, one reason for the move was an inability to recover from injuries he suffered during the outdoor track season at Carroll County. He competed in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes with the Cavaliers.
Stephen said he trained on what he believed to be a concrete track at the high school. The hard surface put pressure in his legs that led to a diagnosis of hip sliding syndrome — when hip tendons slide over bone. Stephen also suffered three pinched nerves in his back.
Stephen said Benjamin “had some problems, too.”
“We just explained how that would be better for us, and we’ve recovered well since the move too,” Stephen said.
The return of the Gosnell brothers was a welcome one on the first day of football practice. Stephen said he sent a text message to Coach Trent Lowman the night of their family meeting. He said the reply he received was that Lowman “about hurt his ankle jumping up.”
According to Lowman, Stephen will play as a wide receiver. Benjamin is set to be a backup quarterback, with additional roles at receiver and running back.
“They’re back and, in our opinion, I guess — so to speak — with their friends and being with the people they’re familiar with,” Lowman said. “I’m happy for them that they were able to come back and finish their high school careers with the guys they’ve grown up with.
“I hope for their family that everyone’s happy with that. There’s a whole lot more to life than football and when we start talking about where kids are going to school and where they’re living, everyone needs to take in the big picture that it’s about the family. It’s not about what football program they play for.”
Stephen and Benjamin now have the opportunity to help bring a state title to East Surry — something Stephen is eyeing, along with a full season at wide receiver, before early enrolling at N.C. State. It was even part of his pitch in that family meeting last month.
But, for now, just gearing up for another season with the Cardinals is hard to believe.
“It’s still surreal,” Stephen said. “It’s hard to imagine that I’m back there, you know? We had our first day of school (Wednesday), and it was like the first time I’d ever been excited to go to school.
“It was nice being in that atmosphere again.”