At 6:45 p.m., the line of people waiting to express condolences to Dylan Drayton’s family, started inside the sanctuary, and spilled outside and around the building.
Nearly two hours later, the line to his wake at Bryan-Lee Funeral Home still extended outside.
Occasionally someone would walk out in tears. Some in the line talked about the times they spent with the former N.C. Central baseball star and Garner area native.
“Garner is a great community,” his mom, Deidre Wolfe, 44, said. “I was raised in Garner. They always support each other. It made me realize the impact Dylan had on so many people.”
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Wolfe said two of Drayton’s elementary school teachers were there, many former coaches and a high school counselor.
“We just felt so honored,” Wolfe said.
Drayton, 23, died July 9, after his motorcycle crashed in the Cleveland area of Johnston County. His mother was a passenger on the motorcycle, but she survived.
Star baseball player
While at NCCU, he starred at shortstop with his college baseball team from 2011-2013 and was nominated All-MEAC in 2012 after he became the sixth NCCU baseball player to record 100 career hits. While in high school he was named to the Tri-Nine All Conference Baseball team during his sophomore, junior and senior years.
Drayton was also an A/B honor roll student in high school and was all named to the Academic All-Conference squad, according to NCCU’s athletic website.
Drayton played baseball most of his life, starting when he was four, his mother said.
He played high school ball at Middle Creek before going to NCCU. The week he died, most area American Legion teams held a moment of silence in his honor.
When former teammates describe his play on the diamond, words like “wizard,” “smooth,” “flashy,” “natural,” “blazing fast,” and “competitor,” are thrown out.
“Best shortstop I’ve ever played with,” said Troy Marrow, who played infield for NCCU from 2011-2013. “He was flashy but he had the right to be flashy. He got it done.”
Jake Russell, a former pitcher at NCCU, from 2011-2014, said the same.
“He had the best hands I ever played with up the middle,” Russell said. “He turned double plays that I didn’t even know were possible. He was quick and he was so competitive on and off the field.”
Also known for coming up with timely hits, you could see the confidence in his eyes when he was up to bat. He finished his three-year career at NCCU with 149 hits and a career .297 batting average.
Off the field, he was described by friends as someone who was reliable, happy, the life of the party and genuine.
“He could light up a room,” Russell said. “He never met a stranger. If you took him with you, he’d always find a way to get you to fit. He was fun to be around.”
Russell still remembers the day he met Drayton. It was in 2011, during baseball meetings. Drayton walked into the room late with a smile on his face, laughing, and came up to Russell, who was new.
“He said ‘if you have any questions come talk to me,’” Russell said. “He showed me the ropes.”
The two became good friends and were eventually roommates. They got matching tattoos on their arm that say “That’s life.”
That’s how he lived his life, Marrow said.
“He knew things were going to happen and you can’t fix it,” he said. “He just had that free spirit about him.”
Drayton’s dream was to play college baseball growing up, Wolfe, his mom said.
“And he did that for Central, but his biggest accomplishment was getting a college degree. He said was going to make me proud and he did.”
Drayton graduated from UNC-Charlotte with a degree in Criminal Justice in December. He transferred there from NCCU after three years of playing baseball.
As Drayton walked the stage, his family screamed. He turned to them in the crowd and patted his chest and put up a peace sign. He took a picture with the chancellor and smiled.
Wolfe looks at that picture from time to time.
“The smile he had was Dylan’s true smile,” she said. “We just all cried because we were so proud of him. Mom, Dad, me and my husband. My daughter and step-daughter.”
Drayton had an interview with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department for an officer position, scheduled for this week. His goal was to become a U.S. Marshall, his mother said.
He would practice for the interview with a family friend who was in law enforcement. That is why Drayton was in town. But he didn’t make it.
Drayton and his mom were driving on his motorcycle when they came around a corner. Wolfe said they weren’t going too fast as previously reported, but she said he pushed her off the motorcycle before he started to lose control.
Wolfe landed on the street, while Drayton still on the motorcycle lay in a ditch unconscious.
Wolfe said Drayton eventually woke up and was communicating with the family and EMS. But at the hospital he died from internal injuries.
“He kept saying, ‘Mama, I’m sorry I hurt you,’ she said. “I kept telling him ‘No, that I’m alright.”
“I think he actually saved me,” Wolfe added.
Friends of Drayton’s say the were shocked to hear of the news.
Wolfe said she will remember the hugs he gave her and the family. The warm embraces. That’s what she’ll miss the most.
“When Dylan hugged you, you knew he was giving all of his love to you,” she said. “Whenever Dylan came home, all of your fears went away. Just his presence. His smile. The hugs. How he made us laugh. That’s what I’ll miss.”