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Six former Stanly football standouts look to continue pro careers in upcoming season

As the National Football League season opens, several players with Stanly roots look to continue their careers both in the U.S. and north of the border.

Denico Autry

One of the most successful Stanly players, Autry opens training camp with his third team as he opens his eighth season in the league.

The former Albemarle standout graduated from Mississippi State University after two years with the Bulldogs. He was an undrafted free agent in 2014 when he signed with the Oakland Raiders. He spent four seasons with Oakland before signing a free-agent deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

In March, Autry signed a three-year, $21.5 million deal with the Tennessee Titans.

Over seven seasons, Autry has played 96 games, starting 56 times. He has 202 career tackles, including 141 solo tackles, along with 30.5 career sacks and three fumble recoveries.

Lee Autry

The younger brother of Denico, the former Albemarle and Mississippi State defensive lineman signed with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League.

Through last weekend, Autry had played in two games but not registered any stats.

B.J. Hill

Last Monday, Hill found out he had been traded.

The former West Stanly and N.C. State standout was traded from the New York Giants to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for Bengals center Billy Price.

Hill, a defensive tackle, was drafted in the third round in 2018 by the Giants. He has played three seasons, having played in all 48 of the team’s games. He started 17. Hill had 102 tackles, 7.5 sacks and three pass defenses in his time with New York.

R.J. Prince

Switching to the offensive line, the former Albemarle and UNC offensive lineman spent the 2021 preseason with the New England Patriots.

However, Prince was waived by the Patriots on Aug. 24.

New England was the third team for whom the former Bulldog played in his career. He signed as an undrafted free agent with Pittsburgh in 2018, then moved to the Ravens in 2019.

For Baltimore, Prince was on the active roster for two games, including a playoff game in 2020. His practice squad contract expired in January before signing in June with the Patriots.

T. J. Smith

A former Comet, Smith had previously signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Chargers for two years for $1.458 million.

However, on Aug. 20, the Chargers waived Smith. The former Comet is working out with other teams.

Smith, who played two seasons for the North Stanly Comets before transferring to Colquitt County High School in Moultrie, Georgia for his senior season, won the 6A state tile with a 15-0 record.

He went on to play SEC football at Arkansas before signing with the Chargers.

Antonio Williams

An injury in preseason presented a setback to the all-time leading rusher in North Stanly history.

Williams, a former Comet who played for Ohio State and UNC, was hurt in the Bills’ opening preseason game at Detroit.

Suffering a neck injury, he missed the final two preseason games for the Bills.

Williams signed a contract Wednesday to be on the Bills’ practice team. He said his injury has healed well and he believes he will move to the active roster at some point this season.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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