The first weekend of this month meant a reunion for two former Northeastern Eagles.
Erik Lawson, a long snapper at East Carolina, and William Simpson, a fullback at North Carolina A&T State, were to be on the same football field for the first time since they were both seniors at the Elizabeth City high school in 2014.
So, naturally, there was some trash talk between the two friends leading up to last weekend’s game.
“E-Law and I talk all the time,” Simpson said. “(Lawson) kept saying how they were going to beat us, how they were ready for us and all that. We kept calling just to say ‘You ready’ and then the other would be like ‘Yeah, you ready?”
As it turned out, Simpson got the bragging rights. North Carolina A&T upset East Carolina 28-23 after it was moved to Sunday afternoon due to inclement weather Saturday night.
Had it been a loss instead for the redshirt junior, Simpson still felt how amazing it was to be on the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium sideline as a player.
“It was crazy to be honest,” the fullback said. “We used to go to East Carolina as a football team from Northeastern and be on the sideline. I never thought I’d be playing on that field and to be playing on it against somebody I used to go to those games with, it was kind of an amazing feeling.”
Both Simpson and Lawson were mostly involved with their special teams on Sunday. Simpson was on the field all nine times the Aggies punted, while Lawson successfully snapped the ball for three Pirate field goals and two extra points.
It was Lawson’s first time as a player on the Dowdy-Ficklen sideline, too. He sat out last season due to his transfer from Georgia Military College, a junior college he played at for two years out of high school.
There was one draw for Lawson to end up at East Carolina.
“I wanted to be closer to home,” Lawson said.
Despite not being eligible to play last season, the long snapper made the most of his year off the field.
For fun last December, Lawson became a Guinness World Record holder after snapping the ball nearly 37 yards. He beat the previous record by four yards.
But with his time closer to home, he said he’s made significant gains in the weight room with Paul Bossi, Currituck High’s wrestling and interim football coach.
“He helped me working out ever since I left for ECU,” Lawson said.
Simpson has also been working hard in the weight room throughout his time in college. Over the offseason, he bested all of his North Carolina A&T teammates with a bench press of 225 pounds 30 times.
“It really wasn’t a goal, but I tried to keep that up once I saw I could lift as much as anyone on the team,” Simpson said.
He got a handful of snaps at fullback in the third quarter of last week’s game and he’s hopeful to earn more snaps this season. Next season, he’s likely to be the first fullback on the depth chart.
Right now, the primary fullback for the Aggies is William Hollingsworth from Plymouth. Simpson was redshirted his freshman year in favor of Hollingsworth getting the roster spot in 2015.
“It was hard at first,” Simpson said. “But then I thought as long as we’re winning, I can’t even be mad. I’m not a selfish player, so I wasn’t even mad that I wasn’t getting as much playing time.”
His team is having a lot of success as A&T won last year’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship along with the Celebration Bowl.
Part of the reason Simpson is hopeful for even more playing time this season is because of their 2-0 start with wins against FBS-level East Carolina and FCS power Jacksonville State.
“This season could be a breeze for us, so I believe I could get more playing time,” Simpson said.
Even before high school, Simpson and Lawson had played on the same football team for years.
So, much like Simpson, Lawson was happy to see his longtime friend on the same collegiate football field, even if it meant they were on opposing sides.
“It was so awesome to see him on the sideline,” Lawson said. “We played with the (Police Athletic League’s) Rampage, River Road Middle School, and then Northeastern before we split.”
Their time at Northeastern not only cemented their friendship even further, but it also led them to create bonds with many others.
“(Northeastern) meant a lot,” Simpson said. “It’s like family. I still talk to all the boys from Northeastern and all my coaches. It’s a bond that will never be broken.”