Garinger Highs Kemmi Pettway was ready to give up on his dream.
He was tired, tired of reading books and manuals to try to teach himself weightlifting, tired of avoiding some of the good (but bad for you) foods his friends were eating at the mall and at the drive-thrus.
He was tired of watching some of the guys he played against get college offers and college interest, and no matter how hard he worked or how well he played, he was tired of no one ringing his phone.
Everybody around Garinger had always told Pettway a senior tight end and defensive end who also plays on Garingers basketball team that his day would come.
It was like a song, he said. It was always Kemmi, your day will come.
But would it, really?
No (college coaches) come to Garinger, Pettway said. I got my opportunities playing schools like (Charlotte) Catholic and Sun Valley, where people are coming to see other stars. I tried to do what I had to do for them to remember my name.
So whenever Garinger played teams with high-powered stars like Catholic All-American tailback Elijah Hood or Sun Valley star running back Albert Funderburk, Pettway made sure to bring his best game. He always hoped some college coach would see at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds with 4.5-second 40-yard dash speed, a 4.4 GPA and a four-digit SAT score Pettway could help their team.
In nine games last season at linebacker, Pettway had 116 tackles. He had 92 solo tackles, forced six fumbles and recovered three.
Man, hes an outstanding football player, Garinger basketball coach Joshua Coley said of Pettway, who plays power forward on the hoops team and averages seven points and nine rebounds.
Hes had five different coaches in four years. Its just been a carousel hes been on, and for him to do that and build his body the way he has I mean, he looks like Megatron. Hes huge, but hes huge with an outstanding work ethic. He wasnt taught basic fundamentals, but he went to (college football) camps on his own in the summer to learn. He saved and paid for coaches camps at UNC and Clemson. He really wanted it, man.
Pettway is Garingers bruiser in basketball, the guy who plays physical defense and gets tough rebounds. He was an all-conference tight end and defensive star in football. Coley said as good as he is on the football field and basketball court, Pettway may be a better student than athlete.
I dont know how thats possible, Coley said, but all the teachers are so excited to talk about him. They all speak so highly of him. They want him to do well.
As the football season wore on last fall, Pettway had some nibbles from Wofford and Duke and Winston-Salem State. There wasnt anything serious.
Pettway started to think about giving up his dream to play in college. He knew with his academic profile, he could get into school somewhere and be a student.
Then, in November, a coach in a light blue jacket came onto Garingers campus.
Pettway said North Carolina assistant Gunter Brewer offered him a preferred walk-on spot with the Tar Heels. Its not a scholarship, but theres a chance to earn one. And no one around school can remember the last time a Garinger football player has played for a big-time school.
Put it like this: its the first time in a long time weve had a kid at a major college, Coley said. Thats why its so big for our program. Just to see coach Brewer on campus and interviewing him and talking to him three or four times with the Carolina stuff on was amazing.
Weve been up to Carolinas campus a few times. Its just been fantastic.
Pettway said fantastic isnt the right word.
Its been mind-blowing actually, he said. A coach from Carolina comes up and says, Ive been up here four or five times looking for you. I was like, You were looking for me? I was like, You can go to (state powers) Mallard Creek or Butler. You couldve gone anywhere else. Its overwhelming when I think about it.
For a long time, I put in the work and people would tell me, Your day will come and Your day will come, and some days, Im like Its never coming. Ill never see this, and then this man comes with a UNC jacket on looking for Kemmi Pettway and changes my life.
Pettway smiles and shakes his head.
Man, he finally said, its crazy.