A pair of Harnett Central football standouts speak about their respective decisions to continue their careers at a nearby university.
ANGIER — The homecomings. The rivalry games. The senior nights.
Marquez Jones and Xavier Bailey have shared the spotlight as two-sport athletes for Harnett Central High School the past four years.
The Trojans duo is set to keep the tag-team show going as each celebrated their decision to play football at Methodist University during a ceremony inside the Central media center Tuesday morning.
"It should be fun since I got somebody that I already know ... We should get the work done together," Jones said about Bailey, who he's called a teammate since middle school.
The natural all-around athlete traded in his soccer shoes for football cleats at age 5 and hasn't looked back since.
"It really started there," Jones said. "I fell in love with it (football) and I'm just thankful I can keep it going.
He added that his personal growth in the sport took off when he arrived at Central, using time in the weight room to pack on pounds to his 5-foot-7 frame while engaging in countless offseason workouts to maintain an above-average speed.
Whether he was lined up in the slot or backfield on offense, and at cornerback on defense, Jones provided consistent playmaking. He tallied close to 500 all-purpose yards with four touchdowns and also had a team-leading three interceptions this past season, earning first-team honors for the 2021-22 All-Record Football Team.
It's the same multi-dimensional capabilities that ultimately drew him to the green and gold, while turning down the likes of North Carolina Wesleyan College.
"They (MU) liked my speed, they like how I can catch in traffic and they just kept in touch with me most of the time ... I think that's what really drove me to Methodist," Jones said.
Bailey impacted the Trojans in a different manner. The 6-3 defensive lineman lived in the opposing backfield and capped his career with a standout senior season, tallying 11 tackles for loss and three sacks in nine games.
Coming into high school as a raw talent, Bailey credits former Central coach Matt Migliore and his assistants for becoming one of the area's most feared linemen.
"They just tuned me into the game – told me stuff I needed to keep, stuff I needed to know so I could become the player I am now," he said.
"They taught me the ways. I had to listen, watch and learn."
Bailey's aggressiveness and relentless motor are traits MU coaches hope carry over for the years to come.
"I tried to always go hard ... always pick my brothers up, always look out for them and encourage everybody on the field," he added.
The Monarchs are coming off a dominating fall campaign that saw them finish second in the USA South Athletic Conference with a 7-2 overall record and 7-1 in league play.
As the two carry their unique talents from Angier to Fayetteville, they expect to continue pushing each other to make a great squad even better.
"I think it's gonna be the same thing, just a different location," Bailey said of the duo's future relationship. "There's gonna be some changes, but we're gonna get adjusted ... try to do something there and try to make a name for ourselves."
Donnell Coley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (910) 230-2040.