ST. PAULS — It finally started to sink in for Tre King on Wednesday inside the media center at St. Pauls High School.
King, one of four Bulldogs taking part in a signing ceremony, is set to play college football at Charlotte.
Clad in green, the primary color of the 49ers, King relished the experience, making sure that every photograph snapped received his seal of approval.
“I’ve waited on this day for a long time,” he said. “Times came where I thought this day would never come, so I’m grateful. I thank God the most.”
Isaiah Harlee, who is set to play basketball at Methodist, along with Ted McNeill and J.J. Oxendine, both of whom are choosing to play baseball at Southeastern Community College, joined King in the celebration of pursuing a chance at the next level.
The four players end their prep careers as all-conference and all-county performers for the Bulldogs.
In his only season with the St. Pauls football team, King was an anchor along the defensive line and helped lead the squad back to the postseason for the first time since 2014. The Bulldogs held their opponents to 25 points per game last season, down from 37 points per contest in 2016.
“The process started a long time ago when he was a little boy,” said St. Pauls coach Ernest King, Tre’s father. “Taking that picture with him (Wednesday), I thought about the first picture he took when he played football and was only 3 years old. He was a running back then and he’s a big defensive lineman now.
“It’s a proud moment as a father and as a coach. … Hard work and determination are what will get him over the top.”
While he’s excited to get on the gridiron for the 49ers, Tre emphasized the importance of a college education as he pursues a career in mechanical engineering.
“They have a great engineering program, first of all,” he said. “And it’s a family-oriented situation.”
But that doesn’t affect his desire to make an impact when he gets an opportunity between the white lines.
“You have to put in the work to play on the field. Hopefully, this (signing) class can come in and do our thing, and walk out with a (championship) ring or two.”
Like Tre, Harlee also pointed to academics as a primary factor in making his college choice.
“It was mainly about education,” said Harlee, who plans on majoring in computer science. “Speaking to the coaches at Methodist, I feel like it’s a good step to work on myself, better myself and move up in the world.”
Harlee became the go-to post player in Corey Thompson’s first year as head coach of the basketball team, helping the Bulldogs advance to the second round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“Isaiah is a real good definition of a student-athlete, just getting it done on and off the court for me,” Thompson said. “He’s really grown a lot this year from a basketball standpoint. I’m just glad he’s getting a chance to further his education and play, too.
“Methodist expressed some interest and everything just worked out. That was the best fit for him and it’s all about fit. When I was a college recruiter, I would tell kids all the time don’t go just because of the level. Go somewhere where you’re wanted. (Methodist) coach (David) Smith has done a good job of letting (Isaiah) know that he wants him there.”
With Tre and Harlee set to step foot on a university campus, McNeill and Oxendine are going the junior college route in hopes of turning the experience into an opportunity at a bigger school.
Cornerstones for the St. Pauls baseball team, the duo helped the Bulldogs win their first Slugfest title since 1998 last season en route to earning a second straight appearance in the third round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs.
As they head to Whiteville, McNeill and Oxendine are determined to use each opportunity they are given to grow on and off the diamond.
“I’m just trying to go there and work hard on my game so I can go to the next level,” Oxendine said. “That’s my main goal. I’ve got to keep my grades up so I can stay in there and I can’t be lazy. Every opportunity I get, I’m going to work.”
McNeill added: “I’m just trying to go and get better so I can get a D-I offer.”