They're sophomores in college, two years removed from the glory of winning back-to-back state soccer championships at Hendersonville High School. They live in a world of college varsity athletics, where the coaches are stricter, the opponents faster and the practices longer.
But the boys are back in town, and what better way to renew friendship than with some heavy lifting in the weight room of the venerable old gym at Hendersonville High School.
Thomas Lodewiekus Tolles (nicknamed Wiekus, pronounced Vickus) was an HHS star in soccer, tennis and golf, not football.
The spring of his senior year, Tolles was fooling around with HHS placekicker Sawyer Heery and decided to give American football a shot.
"Turned out I was pretty good at it," he said. He kept working through the summer and fall. "Coach decided to take a chance on me."
He's on the roster now, along with three other kickers.
"I think we still have another round of cuts to go, which is always nerve-wracking," he said. Kickers are their own squad. "We warm up with the team and then we all just go kick all day."
Beck Miller also switched from soccer in order to play varsity sports. He was a cheerleader his freshman year at Wake Forest but wanted more than that to run track. The coach told him that if he'd spend the summer after his freshman year working out, he'd give him a shot as a walk-on. He made it. He is training now as a 400-meter sprinter. He's just entering his first indoor track season, and ran a 37:04 300-meter race at a preseason meet before Christmas. It was 25th best among 60 runners and second best for Wake.
"He wanted me to go sub-37 so he was lukewarm about it," Miller said of his coach. Welcome to varsity sports.
Kyle Stuller and Brayan Aguirre stuck with soccer.
Stuller started half the season as a midfielder for Montevallo, a small four-year school near Birmingham, Ala.
College soccer is "more professional, more business-like, more dedicated," he says, although the boys admired and learned plenty from head coach Freddie Oviedo and Jon Sherrill. "Everybody's bigger, faster, better. The competition's harder. There's a bigger coaching staff, better facilities."
Stuller took just two shots and neither went through the goal. Yet he scored big in another way: Coaches gave him the team Heart and Hustle Award.
After starting out at Stanly Community College in Albemarle, Aguirre transferred to Spartanburg Methodist.
"It worked out for me," he said. "I scored 22 goals in 18 games."
A three-time Times-News Soccer Player of the Year, Aguirre is the all-time scoring leader at HHS with 156 goals.
After his spring semester at Spartanburg Methodist, a two-year college, he'll be moving on again. He's had offers from Mars Hill, Tusculum (Tenn.), Anderson (S.C.) University and USC Upstate.
Both Stuller and Aguirre say they plan to try out in the spring for the Premier Development League, a semi-pro soccer league made up of many college players in summer ball.
The four HHS alumni were more buff than they were when they left school two years ago and maybe they were slumming it compared to the fancy digs at Wake Forest or UNC Charlotte. The red and white walls told them they were back home. On the outside they wore green and yellow and gray. Inside, they still had Big Red.
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