Not a day goes by that Cameron Thomas doesn't think about his childhood friend Brett Ford.
The two were inseparable, not brothers, even closer.
But that all changed after Ford, who suffered from epileptic seizures, died when the boys were 12 and 13 years old.
"I never talked about this before," Thomas told Inside Carolina from his school on Thursday. "He was like another part to me. When he died, something just didn't feel right. We were real close. Everybody we got around loved him, and we just became attached.
"Once he died, I knew he would not want me to go down in life; he would want me to succeed. That's something that really motivates me."
"Would it be safe to say that you came from a tough neighborhood right down the street? That's no secret," North Moore coach Bryan Lee asked Thomas. "Would it be safe to say that when you're confronted with tough decisions – drugs and all that – you look to him?"
"Yes, sir," Thomas replied. "People don't really know that, because I keep that behind closed doors."
At his tiny 1-A school, located in the remote bushes of the central Piedmont, Thomas stands out amongst his classmates, but fits in perfectly.
Thomas is focused off the field as well. He is not a threat to become an academic casualty, Lee said. And his mother, Janet Person, is the most influential person in his life.
"Every boy growing up loves their Momma; there's nothing like Momma," Thomas said. "I thought about going out of state, but she wouldn't have been able to come to all of my games."
Person, who commutes almost 50 miles each day to get to and from her job at the Perdue chicken processing plant in Rockingham, has seen her hard work payoff in the form of Thomas' character development. Person, along with Thomas' stepfather, are also raising three other children together.
When asked how happy his mother is to know that her only son will be attending college soon, Thomas simply responds, "Tears...tears."
"I'm very excited. This is like a dream for me; I can get an education and do something that I love and help my family out."
Senior writer Andy Britt is in his second year with Inside Carolina. His work has appeared in newspapers across the country such as The Raleigh News & Observer, The Chapel Hill News, The State (Columbia, S.C.), The Seattle Times, The Houston Chronicle and The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at email@example.com.