In high school, it's safe to say that Preston Thorne and Jonathan Alston weren't friends. Alston was a two-way lineman at Stratford high school while Thorne was primarily a defensive lineman at rival Summerville, which is less than 12 miles away from Stratford.
The two schools were state powerhouses that usually only had each other for competition in the late 90s.
In 1998, Thorne's and Alston's junior season, Summerville went undefeated on its way to a 4A State Championship. During that season, Thorne's Green Wave team knocked off Stratford, handing the Knights what proved to be their only regular season loss.
However, Alston would get his redemption a year later. Stratford cruised to an undefeated season, knocking off Summerville along the way, to take the 4A state title away from the Green Wave.
"He was my archrival and we didn't like each other," said Thorne, who added that Alston held him when they played. "They kind of cheated when they beat us our senior year."
"We whooped them," countered Alston.
While the two may have disagreed on a lot of things in high school, there was one thing they had in common, and that was talent. Thorne racked up 129 tackles, 14 for loss and 12 sacks his senior year, and was named first-team All-State. He was a two-sport star, also playing baseball for the Green Wave.
Meanwhile, Alston was busy making the Shrine Bowl his senior year and was an All-State selection himself on the line. He was ranked as the ninth-best player in the Atlantic Region by Prep State magazine.
Both players had college scholarship offers from all over the country but in the end they chose to stay in the state. Alston picked South Carolina over Michigan State and Clemson while Thorne spurned Georgia and Michigan to attend, you guessed it, South Carolina.
As fate would have it, the two rivals from high school would become roommates once they got on campus in Columbia. They obviously weren't too happy about the living arrangements at first, but with their high school rivalry behind them, they were able to finally talk to each other.
"Once we met each other, we were like, 'oh, this guy is alright, he's pretty cool,'" Thorne said.
Both prospects were redshirted their freshman season in 2000 before going on to have productive careers with the Gamecocks. Thorne stepped into immediate playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2001 while Alston initially joined Thorne on the defensive line in 2001. However, Alston switched over to the offensive line in 2002, where he spent the last three years of his career. It proved to be a good move as Alston signed an undrafted free-agent deal with the Washington Redskins after leaving South Carolina.
Both players were a part of South Carolina's second straight Outback Bowl victory in 2001. For Thorne and Alston, it was nice to help turn around a program that was struggling mightily just a few years before.
"To be honest, to hear and see what those guys went through and then come in and be a part of a turnaround was huge," Alston said.
Becoming teammates had a huge effect on Alston's and Thorne's relationship. Pretty soon, they were best friends. Even after leaving South Carolina, the two kept up their friendship.
"It turned into a good thing," Thorne said. "We ended up being roommates for four years and I'm the godfather to his daughter, so it's kind of crazy how football brought us together."
Alston and Thorne were both part of former teammate Langston Moore's third annual Eat2Win football camp on June 13. They helped teach the young kids in attendance the fundamentals of football as well as the importance of eating healthy and getting a good education. Alston and Thorne were joined by around 20 former Gamecocks to help out Moore with the camp.
It was a great opportunity for the players to catch up with each other while helping out the next generation at the same time.
Thorne is currently teaching and coaching at Blythewood high school and is also helping Moore author a children's book called "Just the Chicken", a story about Cocky and the rest of the mascots in the SEC.
Alston has been busy building up a secondary career and has worked in construction sales at Waste Management for the last three years. He's also raising a family that includes his wife of 10 years, a 13-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.
After a long, twisting journey to lifetime friendship, the two former Gamecocks can't help but reflect on their careers and be proud of what they accomplished and the memories they made.
"Kind of laying down some of the foundation for the success they're having now; it's huge to be a part of that because you work so hard and you see the fruits of your labor," Alston said of the football team. "It's an amazing feeling but we also get that same feeling now just watching each other grow in our communities with our families so it's a wonderful thing."
**Story by Kyle Heck/Photos of Alston (left) and Thorne (right) as Gamecocks courtesy of South Carolina Athletics Media Relations**