WHERE THEY CAME FROM: TWO STAR PRO ATHLETES SCORING STUNNING FINANCIAL SUCCESS HAVEN'T FORGOTTEN THEIR EASTERN N.C. ROOTS.

Author:Barkin, Dan
 
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Sports fans in eastern North Carolina a decade ago knew of two Edgecombe County youngsters, Todd Gurley II and Montrezl Harrell. Gurley, a running back at Tarboro High School, demolished football teams. Harrell, a power forward at North Edgecombe High School, dominated the paint. Today, they are two of the most famous athletes in Los Angeles not named LeBron. Gurley plays for the NFL's Rams and Harrell, for the NBA's Clippers.

They are multimillionaires. This column is about some of the things Gurley, 25, and Harrell, 26, have done for kids in Edgecombe. When you are rich, it is easy to forget when you were poor. They haven't.

In high school, Harrell and Gurley crossed paths constantly. There is a photo in The Daily Southerner of Tarboro from a basketball game nine years ago of Harrell shooting over Gurley. Gurley scored three touchdowns in the 2010 game in which Tarboro dominated, 41-0. Harrell caught a pass for three yards.

In the springtime, Harrell hurled discus at the state level; Gurley was one of the fastest young hurdlers in the nation.

Gurley later shredded SEC defenses for the University of Georgia. Harrell, playing for Louisville, was a nightmare for teams including N.C. State's 2015 squad, which made it to the national tournament's Sweet 16 round.

In the pros, their trajectories diverged. Gurley went first round to the Rams, Harrell, second round to the Houston Rockets. Gurley was an instant sensation. Harrell did time in the NBA's development league. After a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017, he emerged as a top player.

Making millions, paying back

Pro careers are typically short. Gurley and Harrell are among the few who make it to the big checks. Gurley was the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2017, then signed a four-year contract in 2018 worth $60 million. Harrell agreed around the same time to a two-year, $12 million deal. This year, he's likely to ink a four-year, $80 million deal.

Back home, Edgecombe County is suffering. Consider some data points from area code 252.

The number of companies in Edgecombe has dropped nearly 30% over the last 20 years and the county's labor force has shrunk by more than 20%. When Harrell and Gurley were high school rivals, the county's jobless rate topped 17%. Annual household income of about $35,500 is less than half of Wake County's. Parts of Edgecombe are just 45 miles from the Raleigh Beltline.

To narrow the gap a little, the Montrezl Harrell Youth Foundation was founded...

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