EMORY, Va. – T.J. Tester and Grayson Overstreet achieved folk hero status as seniors at Staunton River High School.
After a bad break and a false start, the lifelong friends have found a new home in the Emory & Henry football program.
“Grayson and I started playing football together around age five,” Tester said. “Having the chance to compete with my buddy in college … this is fun.”
Overstreet (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) began his football journey last year at the University of Richmond while Tester (5-9, 185) was forced to the sidelines at E&H after suffering a broken leg in a preseason scrimmage.
Though separated by 300 miles, Tester and Overstreet kept in touch.
“Grayson told me that he wasn’t happy at Richmond, so I told him to visit Emory for a weekend,” Tester said. “After Grayson did that, he was hooked.”
It also helped that Tester’s sister and Overstreet’s older brother were married this summer.
Overstreet and Tester have started all four games for E&H this season. Tester leads the Wasps (2-2, 1-2) in rushing with 226 yards while Overstreet is tied for third in tackles with 20 from his linebacker spot.
So how difficult was the transition to far Southwest Virginia?
“Grayson and I are both from the country so we fit right in,” Tester said.
That 2017 Staunton River team was one to remember. The Golden Eagles averaged 51 points en route to 13 straight wins before falling 49-35 to Heritage in the Class 3 semifinals.
Overstreet, a fullback, set Virginia High School League career records for points (950), touchdowns (142) and rushing yards with 9,044. Tester rushed for 3,250 career yards at wingback while 5-11 tailback Kalip Jones added 3,334 yards as a wingback
Jones went on to play basketball at Ferrum while two other former Staunton River stars are now playing football at Bluefield.
“That was a fun time,” Tester said. “The guys built chemistry from playing on the same youth league teams and that carried over into game. We didn’t have many players on that varsity team, but we all played both sides of the ball and loved the game.”
There was another reason why Staunton River earned nine postseason wins in three years. This group of record-setters was fueled by the single-wing offense, quite a contrast from the RPO (Run-Pass Option) offense employed by E&H head coach Curt Newsome.
“There are several differences in the offense,” Tester said. “I never had to do any pass blocking in high school, but the overall adjustment hasn’t been too bad.”
Tester posted career-best numbers with 84 yards rushing and a touchdown on 14 carries in Saturday’s 56-17 victory over ODAC rival Hampden-Sydney.
The work of Tester helped quarterback Hunter Taylor to pass for 391 yards and five scores and kept defenders guessing while Derrick Yates set the school record with 265 yards receiving
“We started off a little slow on offense this season, but now we’re on track,” Tester said. “Our line is big and physical, Hunter can run and throw, and nobody can guard Derrick.”
One year after enduring the mental agony of rebab and recovery, Tester said he savors the chance to be back on the field.
Tester, who said he received a couple offers to play at the NCAA Division II level, remembers the exact details of his injury.
“I bounced a run outside. As I was making a cut, I planted my foot and the defensive back stuck his helmet right where I had my leg planted,” Tester said.
One gruesome snap later and Tester was sidelined for the season. He now has eight screws and a metal plate in his leg.
“I was pretty upset, but I’m glad to be back out there now,” Tester said.
According to Newsome, Tester provides more than a quick burst.
“T.J. does all the little things right,” Newsome said. “He makes defenders miss, he blocks well and he’s as tough as they come.”
Tester said the best is yet to come for the Wasps and his high school classmate, who has also carried the ball eight times for the Wasps.
“Grayson is a different breed,” Tester said. “I think the sky is the limit for him here at Emory.
“With Grayson out there on defense, it feels like home.”
The Wasps travel to ODAC newcomer Southern Virginia Saturday in a 1 p.m. start.