Brandon Hudgins says he'll never forget the role Brad Orr and Trevor Beesley played three years ago in his successful transition from Northwestern High School to Winthrop.
It was a big leap athletically and academically, and having two upperclassmen take the time and interest to work with him and show him the ropes got his college career off on the right foot.
Now it's Hudgins' time to take the younger cross country runners under his wing and impart the lessons passed down from Beesley and Orr. There is, however, one fledgling Eagle that he'll work very closely with -- Tyler Hudgins, his younger brother.
"This is the first time I've had siblings on the same team, and it's great," coach Ben Paxton said. "We had two sisters before, but there was like a seven-year span between them. Having Brandon here will be great for Tyler. They're very close and they'll have each other to talk to."
Brandon said he'd rather follow the same course Orr and Beesley took with him his first year and lead by example, but added he will talk to the younger runners if needed.
"Every year, it seems like the young guys have a thousand questions, so you have to stay on your toes," Brandon said. "You just have to let them know that it isn't the end of the world if they have a bad workout or a bad race. You just have to come back and work harder. "
The 'working harder' part of the message is something Tyler picked up on immediately.
"In high school, you could take it easy one day and it wouldn't hurt you," Tyler said. "Everything here is so different. You have to work every day.
"Having Brandon here has made the transition a lot easier. All the upperclassmen have been great, but I know that I can go talk to him about anything."
Family support is nothing new to Brandon and Tyler. It's a Hudgins family tradition.
"They are a very close and supportive family," Paxton said. "Last Saturday we had a very hard morning workout. As soon as it was over, Brandon and Tyler went up to Charlotte to watch their younger sister (Calli) run her first high school cross country meet at McAlpine Park."
The seventh-grader posted a time of 25 minutes -- not bad, her brothers said, for the first time out.
Paxton sees one big similarity in the two brothers -- something that constantly drives them to be the best they can be. It's something they developed while running at Northwestern for their father, Calvin.
"Brandon was a state champion at Northwestern and probably the top runner in South Carolina as a senior," Paxton said. "He was highly sought-after.
"Tyler was an excellent high school runner, but he didn't receive the same accolades as Brandon. But what impressed me about him the most is he has the same type of hunger Brandon has. He has tremendous potential."
Brandon has made a big impact on Winthrop's track program. Last year he set school records in the indoor 800 meters and mile in addition to the outdoor 800, 1500 and mile.
"Those are his best events, but he knows that to get better he'll have to be solid in cross country, and he's doing that," Paxton said. "I think he'll have an excellent season."
Tyler said he'd like to help the team this season, but thinks he'll make a bigger impact next year.
Paxton expects Brandon, Orr and Beesley to be his top three runners in each meet. How they'll finish is anybody's guess.
"They're interchangeable as far as who'll be number one," Paxton said. "They could be the best 1-2-3 punch we've ever had."
As far as the Big South Conference championship is concerned, nationally ranked Liberty is once again the team to beat. The always-strong Flames are led by Josh McDougal, the nation's top returning runner, and were the unanimous No. 1 pick in the BSC preseason poll. The Eagles came in at No. 4.
"I don't know if we can beat them, but I sure would like to scare them," Paxton said. "This group is capable of an upset. We weren't intimidated by them in track, and we won't be intimidated in cross country. We're running with more confidence than last year."
Brandon is looking for big things.
"This is the best chemistry we've had since I've been here," he said. "Everyone on the team has really worked hard."
• Mens roster, schedules • 5C