EMORY, Va. – Former Virginia High School League football sensation Grayson Overstreet said there was one big reason why he decided to transfer from the University of Richmond to Emory & Henry.
“I just wanted to play ball and be at a place that I fit in,” Overstreet said.
According to Overstreet, the transition to his new teammates in the NCAA Division III program located in far Southwest Virginia was almost immediate.
“It didn’t take but a couple days before I began to consider these boys as my bothers,” Overstreet said. “We’re all family now.”
The impact of Overstreet at Emory has been a hot topic for months.
Savvy E&H fans already knew that the 6-foot-2, 220-pound athlete was twice named the Class 3A state Offensive Player of the Year after breaking VHSL career records for rushing yards (9,045), points scored (944), touchdowns (144) and 100-yard games (41) at Staunton River High School.
In Saturday’s opening game against North Carolina Wesleyan, Overstreet started at linebacker in the 4-2-5 defense employed by the Wasps. He also carried the ball twice at running back, drawing an ovation from the crowd of 4,216 when he took his spot in the backfield.
E&H head coach Curt Newsome said he plans to give Overstreet 8-10 carries per game while using him as an anchor on defense.
So is Overstreet ready for the challenge of being a two-way player?
“Oh yeah,” Overstreet said. “I’ve played offense and defense my whole life. It doesn’t bother me.”
After starting all four years at Staunton River, Overstreet was used at linebacker last year at Richmond. He saw action in four games, making six tackles. Because he did not meet the threshold of using a season of eligibility, Overstreet can play for four years at E&H.
“I learned a lot about football at Richmond, especially the importance of the team aspect,” Overstreet said. “I just didn’t like it that well, and I wanted to have fun with the game.”
Working at the fullback position in a unique single-wing offense, Overstreet had all sorts of fun at Staunton River. The Golden Eagles scored 50 points or more 22 times during a three-year span, including outbursts of 87 and 85 points against Western Albemarle in the playoffs.
E&H relies on the RPO (run-pass option) offense in the pass-happy Old Dominion Athletic Conference. But Overstreet does have a sense of familiarity in the presence of high school teammate T.J. Tester.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound freshman, who missed last season due a broken leg, rushed for over 3,200 yards while scoring 51 touchdowns as the wingback in Staunton River’s funky single-wing.
Tester led the Wasps Saturday with 56 yards rushing on 16 carries.
“I love being on the same team with T.J. again,” Overstreet said. “We been playing football together since we were six and we’ve always been real close, so I couldn’t ask for anything better than this.”
It was Tester who actually helped convince Overstreet to make the 150-mile journey down Interstate 81 from his hometown of Moneta to Emory.
“T.J. and I talked when I decided to leave Richmond,” Overstreet said. “I finally said ‘Shoot, I will come down and play with y’all.’ ”
Tester continually bounced off the initial tackle and struggled for extra yards against the quick and experienced North Carolina Wesleyan defense in Saturday’s 31-24 loss.
“T.J. is a man on that football field,” Overstreet said. “He runs hard on every carry and he’s a great blocker.”
Despite their jaw-dropping high school numbers, Newsome said his Staunton River boys keep a low profile.
“Grayson and T.J. are great to coach and they’re solid teammates,” Newsome said. “They’re both low-key and polite and they both put in the work.”
Overstreet said he has never spent much time dwelling on stats or headlines.
“T.J. and I believe in the staying humble and doing our jobs,” Overstreet said. “That’s the way we were raised and that’s how we play football.”
In his E&H debut Saturday, Overstreet collected five tackles. He was held to negative-five yards rushing on his two carries as the Wesleyan defenders were keyed in on the highly-hyped freshman.
“When I’m in on offense it’s usually in a short yardage package, so it was kind of obvious that I was getting the ball,” Overstreet said. “[Wesleyan] just ran a blitz and got through the line. That was the first time in a while that I had played offense.”
Instead of stressing out over his lofty expectations and new surroundings, Overstreet has embraced the chance for rejuvenation at the grassroots level of college football.
“As soon as I got on campus, this place reminded me of home,” Overstreet said. “Coach Newsome is a jokester and a fun guy to play for. I’ve already seen a lot of new faces and met a lot of nice people here.”
For Overstreet, one of the best parts of his first Emory & Henry game was the attendance - especially considering that Virginia Tech was playing at home against Old Dominion at the same time.
“Seeing all those fans meant a lot to me, and I know it’s important for this program to have the community pull together like this,” Overstreet said. “Yeah, I love playing here in Emory.”