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‘Zonkers:’ Weaver’s first football victory since 2018 touched off championship-like celebration

Atchley talk

Weaver coach Gary Atchley gives his team encouragement during Monday morning's film session. The Bearcats ended a 21-game losing streak that dated back to 2018 Friday.

WEAVER — Players and coaches describe the locker-room scene after Weaver ended its 21-game losing streak Friday as “zonkers” and a “mosh pit,” and they credit Jeremy Harper with starting the party.

“I just came in hooting and hollering,” the Bearcats assistant coach said Monday. “It’s been two years.”

As of Monday morning’s workout, film session and rainy practice, roughly 60 hours had passed since Weaver won a football game. Life after Friday, when the Bearcats beat Glencoe 20-7 for their first victory since Nov. 2, 2018, feels good.

First-year coach Gary Atchley summed up how good after a short film session in Harper’s classroom.

“This is a different Weaver team,” Atchley told his players. “We’re more physical, more confident in what we’re doing.”

The Bearcats, now 1-1 overall with a 1-0 record in Class 3A, Region 5 play, had a lot to overcome to get there.

The current team includes several players who took beatings as eighth-graders, freshmen and sophomores. Opponents outscored Weaver 962-143 over the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

High school kids get older and more physically mature, however.

Then along comes the right coach for the moment. Atchley, a long-time teacher and coach across multiple sports who practically grew up in Weaver, brings on-the-sleeve enthusiasm.

“We didn’t have that type of energy for the past two years,” said Kaden Gooden, one of two Bearcats who see time at quarterback. “People just didn’t want to show up to practice. When he started being our head coach, everybody started putting in effort and extra work.”

It expressed in a tougher film session over the weekend. It expressed again, in Monday’s happier film session, which emphasized positives as the Bearcats readied to take the field and practice for this week’s region game at Pleasant Valley.

Harper praised a defensive player for fighting off a block and making a tackle. Atchley made a connection.

“That’s why we feel like we do today instead of how we felt last week,” Atchley said from the back of the room.

 And make no mistake, things felt differently Monday.

“You can’t wait to get back in the weight room,” Atchley said. “Seeing the dirty clothes this morning wasn’t aggravating. It was kind of fun to come and wash them.

“It’s just a whole different atmosphere at Weaver High School this morning.”

The only thing missing was a school full of students to bask with the football team. Calhoun County schools went to virtual learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s delta variant surge.

COVID-related absences left the football team to begin practice last week with 16 players. Players missing Monday trickled back in, with the last one joining practice Thursday.

The Bearcats had confidence, however. They led Glencoe 20-0 last season before falling 28-20, so they knew they could beat the Yellow Jackets.

“We were pretty confident,” fullback/guard Payton Martin said. “We weren’t trying to get too confident, to, like, make ourselves think we were just going to ball out. We still have a little bit of doubt in us.”

Then something bad happened. Glencoe scored first.

Bad things always happened to Weaver over the past two seasons, but the Bearcats shrugged this one off.

“They scored on a busted coverage,” sophomore quarterback/defender Jackson Williams said. “It wasn’t because we couldn’t cover them, or anything like that.”

Older players reassured younger players.

“Me and a couple of guys, after they scored, we were just telling everybody and each other that we need to settle down and make sure we don’t let that happen again,” lineman Hayden Ransom said. “Just really fix the mistakes we had on that play and just keep moving forward in the ballgame.”

Weaver answered to tie the game then took control.

Fast-forward to the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter, and the outcome looked apparent. Fans stood in the stands, waiting to see the team celebrate.

Atchley sensed the mood when he went to the back of the Bearcats’ sideline to get a drink of water.

“The cheerleaders and some of the guys were, like, ‘Hey, Coach Atchley!’” he said. “I’m like, ‘I’m trying not to talk to anybody.’

“Everybody was getting that anticipation of finally getting that monkey off of our backs, and I kept telling myself, ‘It’s not over yet. It’s not over yet.’”

When the clock hit zeroes, Atchley took water from three coolers. He also took in the scene, watching Weaver’s players and fans celebrate.

He joined in as players and cheerleaders lined up to sway to the alma mater.

“That was special,” Atchley said.

The Bearcats made their way up the hill to their locker room, something they didn’t have for the years it took contractors to build a new school on top of the old school site. The celebration took a turn for the crazy when Harper entered the room.

“We were all jumping up and down and screaming, hugging each other, everything,” Ransom said.

Atchley called the scene “zonkers.” Music filled the room, and players danced, he said.

He likened the feeling to “maybe winning a state championship.”

“It’s a feeling of exhilaration, I guess,” he said. “You don’t know what to say. You don’t know what to feel. You just sit and watch.

“It’s kind of an out-of-body experience. It’s what high school sports is all about, I think, is what happened Friday night.”

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.