QUEEN OF THE KILLS. Kaitlyn Branam (right) was exceptional at the net, along the back row and at the service stripe during her strong volleyball career at Franklinton High School. (Times photo by Geoff Neville)
FRANKLINTON -- From an athletics standpoint, Franklinton's current senior class is destined to be one of the most talented in school history -- at least when it comes to earning college scholarships.
That season-long trend continued last Thursday as three more Red Rams finalized their next-level plans during a signing ceremony at the FHS Media Center.
Volleyball standout Kaitlyn Branam inked a deal with East Carolina University, while footballer Justus Sapp will stay close to home and play at Louisburg College.
Rounding out the festivities was distance runner Kayla Wetherell's decision to join the track and field program at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
Wetherell will go down as one of the best distance runners FHS has produced, and she served as the Lady Rams' first leg of the 3200 Relay Team, which took second in the regionals and seventh at the states earlier this month.
Wetherell was fifth in the region in both the 800 and 1600 and is a former Girls MVP at the Franklin County Championships.
This past season, Wetherell picked up personal best times in the 800 (2:36), 1600 (5:50) and 3200 (13:30).
Wetherell will join UNC-G as a preferred walk-on with a chance to earn a scholarship -- a fate FHS coach Clennie Wilkins is certain she will be able to achieve.
"I think Kayla will be great at Greensboro,'' Wilkins said. "She will go in, learn some new things, get stronger and work hard to lower her times. There is no doubt for me that she will one day fill a scholarship position.''
Wetherell is FHS' second track and field signee in the senior class, as Malik Tarbell has already wrapped up his plans to attend Coker University in South Carolina.
Sapp, an offensive lineman, was a two-year starter for the Red Rams under Coach Jeremy Buck.
In Sapp's campaigns as a starter, Franklinton went a combined 15-9 and reached the playoffs both seasons.
"Louisburg is going to be great for Justus,'' Buck said. "He is going to get a chance to play in college, and those two years at Louisburg should give him some great opportunities beyond that.
"He will get into great shape and get to play year-round and figure out how good he can be.''
Both Sapp and Buck were impressed with the recruiting efforts of new LC head coach Trevor Highfield, who has made a point early in his tenure to develop relationships with area prep coaches.
"I listened to Coach Highfield speak at a clinic at Pinecrest High School, and he said he was going to recruit close to home,'' Buck said. "He reached out and called me, and we've been talking ever since. He visited our school and has shown that he is going to put his money where his mouth is. Hopefully, Justus will be the first of many (FHS recruits going to LC).''
Earlier this year, Franklinton lineman Seth Champion signed with Randolph-Macon College in Virginia.
Branam becomes the third Lady Ram spiker to join a Division I program as Tiara Wilkins (Mississippi Valley State) and Anna Moss (University of North Carolina-Wilmington) had already accepted offers.
Caitlin Withers, the current coach at Louisburg College, guided Branam for two seasons at FHS and is also her club coach for the Triangle Volleyball Club 18-Blues.
"I think Kaitlyn will easily get on the court at East Carolina,'' Withers said. "She has great defensive skills and has developed the confidence to be able to play as a freshman.
"Kaitlyn is an extremely good all-around player. She is explosive on defense -- she gets to so many balls that you think she has no chance on. She is fun to watch.''
Branam was a four-year rotation performer at Franklinton and was an All-Northern Carolina Conference selection for a trio of campaigns.
Despite being bothered by injuries for much of her senior year, Branam excelled and helped the Lady Rams reach the Class 2-A State Playoffs and finish second at the NCC Volleyball Tournament in Creedmoor.
Perhaps the happiest person at Branam's signing was her mother, Julie Timberlake -- an alum of East Carolina and long-time Pirates' football season ticket holder.
The family will now have to squeeze in some volleyball matches in Greenville in addition to the gridiron trips.