PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Winston-Salem State have become very familiar on the football field in recent history playing seven times in the last 11 seasons.
For three players that will be on the UNCP sideline, there’s a little more familiarity with the Rams when they come to Pembroke this afternoon for a 3 p.m. kickoff. Defensive lineman Lucas Brim, along with wide receivers E.J. Williams and JoJo Grant all played at Winston-Salem State before transferring to UNCP. Brim played last season with the Braves after sitting out the 2015 season, and Grant and Williams are newcomers to the program.
Being on both sides of matchup between the two in-state schools, the three players have seen the difference on how the game is viewed at both schools. Being the season-opener the past six seasons, that carries weight, but the close games in that time frame add to the magnitude of the meeting.
“The first year I was there, I didn’t know too much about Pembroke at that point and I had heard about the rivalry and heard about the big significant going into it,” Brim said. “I saw the hype around it when I transferred down here.”
“I wouldn’t say it was as much of a rivalry then as much as it is now. The hype has been built up over it now with the program that Winston is as far as football,” Grant said. “It’s been the opener for a while. It pretty much speaks for itself and I say it is a rivalry.”
For Williams and Brim, this matchup has brought a pair of firsts to their college careers. Williams had his first collegiate reception against UNCP before picking up 44 receptions, 1,171 yards and 14 touchdowns over his career there. Brim played in one game at Winston-Salem State, in the 2014 win at home against the Braves and had his only registered stat, a tackle assist, in the fourth quarter.
For Williams to return the favor against his now old program and to help deliver a win for his new team would be a redeeming way to make up for time lost during the transfer process.
“Nobody really knows how much it takes to go through that process of transferring. The amount of time we put in and to come away with a win, it would be all worth it,” he said.
The trio also has noticed the differences in the programs and how they run and prepare for games. The main point they realize is the attention to detail. Brim, who grew up 20 miles away from Winston-Salem in Belews Creek, said the improvements UNCP has had in recent years can only be seen from the inside.
“This program is a lot different from the inside as it is from the outside. You see the work ethic, you see why these past couples years we’ve improved records and why we’re on the elite side,” Brim said.
In their short time in Pembroke, Grant and Williams have already noticed how the two programs operate differently.
“They focus more on the smaller details to get to the bigger picture,” Grant said.
“It’s more we, us and our over here instead of at Winston. We all just come together and realize if we do that we will get the job done,” Williams said.
While Grant and Williams get their first, and for Williams his only, chance to take on their former coaches and teammates, Brim is no stranger to what it is like going up against guys he faced off in practice and shared the same locker rooms with. They have said no trash talk has been traded, but they have stayed in touch with former teammates.
“It’s kind of bittersweet. I will continue to have friends that I came in with (at Winston-Salem State) that will be lifelong friends,” Brim said. “But like any other sport, when it comes down to that field it’s me versus you and I’m trying to win my battle every play.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.