Angus Weaver: A Polk County legacy built on always moving forward

Published 1:15 pm Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Head up, eyes wide, always moving forward.

 

Find the hole, hit the hole. Make the first man miss. Stutter step, stop, cut back, set up the block, head upfield. Five yards, 10 yards, 20 yards. Fall forward. Back to the huddle, next play.

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Announcer roars. “Angus Weaver with the touchdown.”

 

No time to listen. Defense on the field. Read the play, flow to the ball, make the tackle. Blitz, fight off the blockers, get into the backfield. Stop the run, stop the pass. Next play.

 

Announcer again shouts. “Angus Weaver with the tackle.”

 

Hit, be hit, hit, be hit, hit, be hit. Twelve minutes. Four quarters. 10-12 games. Four years.

 

Head up, eyes wide, always moving forward.

 

Angus Weaver cast aside his childhood toys and told his parents it was time he started playing some football.

 

Age three.

 

“Every morning, he would wake up and say, is it football yet?” recalled Weaver’s mom, Katie. “Because we wouldn’t let him play until he was four. Every morning, is it football yet? When he got to put that helmet on, it was too hot for him and he had to take it off.

 

“Once he got used to the helmet, he hasn’t quit.”

 

Hasn’t quit? Football has largely been Weaver’s life focus since. Youth teams. School teams. Travel teams. Weight rooms. Personal trainers. Film sessions. Rinse, repeat.

 

“We’ve done everything to give him every advantage he could have, and he has worked his tail off to do it,” says Jeff Weaver, Angus’ dad. “He’s always worked extremely hard. He never stops training, he never stops working on being better. I’ve set up stuff for him to do, but he himself has taken it and embraced every bit of it and he has just worked hard.”

 

That unyielding effort has brought its rewards. There have been championships, Weaver’s favorite accomplishments because he likes nothing more than winning. There have been honors, including the latest, selection for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, recognition as one of the top high school seniors in the state.

 

And there have been the statistics.

 

Numbers, stats, analytics. They play a vital role in today’s sports world where every aspect of football is measured, totaled and tabulated. They also are often overanalyzed, misstated and misused.

 

In his three-plus seasons as part of Polk County’s football program, Weaver has produced plenty of notable numbers worthy of discussion. He is now the school’s all-time leading rusher, his 4,194 yards and counting smashing Jamal Tanner’s former mark of 3,221 yards. He owns the career records for carries and rushing touchdowns and has a chance to set another mark or two before his Wolverine days end. Defensively, he has moved among the school’s all-time leaders in tackles and may have a shot at a record there as well.

 

Among the reams of numbers, though, is one achievement that says more about Weaver’s talent and two-way value to Polk County’s football program than any other: He needs just seven more tackles to reach 400 for his career, adding that feat to his 4,000-plus rushing yards. That’s an average – AVERAGE – of 1,000 yards rushing and 100 tackles per season, numbers usually considered the single-season gold standard for any back or defender. It’s safe to say no other Polk County player has done that over a four-year career, and it’s a good bet not many others across the state have, either.

 

Tackles aren’t typically tracked as state records at the high school level, but the North Carolina High School Athletic Association record book lists just more than 100 backs with at least 4,200 yards rushing for their careers. The record book has obvious absences, so figure maybe 200 or so have reached 4,000 yards. Odds are pretty good that few of those also had 400 tackles in their careers.

 

“That’s pretty elite,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis, leaning back in his office chair with eyes wide. “That’s pretty elite company. I’ve never coached anybody that’s pulled that off.”

 

Talk to high school fans, players, coaches, and media and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone that can remember a player accomplishing such. The numbers are testament to Weaver’s durability – he has missed very few plays, let alone games, in his four seasons – as well as a unique skillset rooted in experience and effort.

 

“Angus is quite possibly the most instinctive football player I’ve ever coached on both sides of the ball,” Ollis said. “He has incredible vision as a runner. He runs with abandon, but he’s also in control of his feet. He can make somebody miss in a tight space, and he has breakaway speed. All I’ve got to do is go back to that first play of the second half against Hendersonville (in 2021) when we put it in his belly on the iso, I believe it was 43 Power, and he went 74 yards and outran some of the fastest players in our conference in the secondary. So he brings that to the table.

 

“Defensively, he just finds the football. He calls all the strong calls, and if we have checks, he makes those. He runs downhill, he makes plays, he tackles people on the edge. He’ll pick the ball off if you don’t look out underneath. He’s kind of the heartbeat of our team.”

 

With 25 years as both a Polk County assistant and head coach, defensive coordinator Jamie Thompson has seen most of the Wolverines to ever wear blue and white. Weaver may not have the all-around athleticism of Jim Ollis, the unique blend of speed and size of Chris Mintz or the highlight-reel playmaking ability of Tanner, but what he does bring each and every Friday may provide even more value to Polk County’s program.

 

“As far as a pure football player, he’s the best pure football player I’ve ever coached,” Thompson said. “Best pure football player. I’m not talking about the athlete, though he’s a great athlete. But as far as skill, knowledge of the game, toughness, grit, leadership, he’s the best I’ve ever coached.”

 

Weaver began playing football when he was four. By six he was typically the best player on the field. He’s arguably been the best player on the field every game since.

 

And, just maybe. . .

 

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best player to ever come through Polk County,” said Clint Cantwell, who coached Weaver for several seasons with Polk County Youth Football. “There are a couple of others who have a good argument, but he’s a do-it-all.

 

“Just when you think nothing is going right, Angus will do something to make it right.”

 

Football has been front and center in Angus Weaver’s life for nearly all of it.

 

He began playing with PCYF at age four and followed that path until his eighth grade season at Polk County Middle School. PCYF teams began playing additional games, traveling to tournaments such as the well-known Rocky Top youth gathering in Tennessee. Weaver also began expanding his schedule outside PCYF, joining teams in Charlotte, trekking to tournaments in Virginia and Georgia, sometimes playing with multiple teams in a weekend.

 

“I did that on purpose because I knew he was special, but I needed to see him against people that were equally as special to see if I was seeing what I was seeing,” said Jeff Weaver, Angus’ father. “And I was.”

 

From the outset, work ethic has perhaps defined and differentiated Weaver. Cantwell quickly noticed it.

 

“Nobody’s going to try harder than him,” he said. “If somebody does look like they’re trying harder than him, he’s just going to try harder. He’s been that way from the time I coached him at six.

 

“He’s got some natural abilities and he’s got some drive on the football field. He doesn’t want to be outdone, there’s no doubt there. He’s never going to stop trying. He’s always going to want a little more.”

 

For the PCYF seasons where Cantwell wasn’t Weaver’s head coach, Steve Blatt often was. Blatt quickly saw the same traits that Cantwell observed.

 

“He was such a team player and humble,” Blatt said. “He has always been the best player on his teams in Polk County. Him buying into the team concept and supporting his teammates made his youth teams better. Willing to share the limelight and just play football.”

 

Being the best football player he could be has motivated Weaver as much off the field as on; he says the only individual records he ever cared about reaching at Polk County High School were those in the team’s weight room: “One of my goals, as a freshman here, was to be first on every board out in the weight room. Be first in squat, deadlift, power clean, bench, run the fastest 40, jump the longest.” Not rushing records, not scoring records, not anything tied to on-field play. But to be the best where the work is the hardest.

 

In addition to all the extra games, Weaver has trained at spots such as Parisi Speed School and D1 Training in Asheville. When the global coronavirus pandemic struck and kids largely retreated to their rooms, Weaver found someone in South Carolina willing to leave a door open at a gym so that he could slip in and continue to work out.

 

That drive has manifested itself outside the weight room as well.

 

“His willingness to put in time to learn about the game is also unmatched,” said Ethan Edwards, who coached Weaver in his one season playing at Polk Middle. “We had Hudl (a platform where teams can watch game films), and I can go on to see how long people watch. It was not even in comparison to anyone else.

 

“You see how long he watches film, so you know that’s when he’s out there watching himself, mistakes he made, things he did right and then he’s watching the next team we’re playing. His preparation, that’s part of his competitiveness.”

 

As the head coach at Hendersonville, Jim Sosebee had to scheme to stop Weaver on three occasions. Doing so often meant extra work not typically part of the standard weekly routine.

 

“You definitely had to game plan for him on both sides of the ball,” said Sosebee, now the head coach at Crest. “He is so versatile. One thing you knew no matter where he lined up was the fact he was going to give 100 percent effort every play. One person wasn’t going to block him on defense nor was one person going to bring him down on offense.

 

“Angus is a throwback player, tough as nails, not about flash. He’s all about business.”

 

Angus Weaver strolled to the plate during a Polk County baseball game earlier this year. Whispers quickly began in the Hendersonville dugout on the opposite side of the field.

 

“That’s the guy,” some said. “That’s the guy who outran everybody.”

 

The 74-yard touchdown run against the Bearcats is one of Weaver’s signature moments to date as a high school Wolverine. But hang around Polk County football fields long enough and you’ll hear more tales of Weaver heroics.

 

Everyone has a favorite story, it seems.

 

Clint Cantwell: “First play I coached that group, everybody was asking me how do you think we’ll do and all that, and I’m like, I don’t know. And first play of the game, Angus cracked an 80-yarder off for a touchdown. And there was a game he looked like he was having heat stroke and he still came in and scored the winning touchdown.”

 

Bruce Ollis: “We’re playing Hendersonville, and (athletic trainer) Glenn Preslar can’t be here. They send a brand-new trainer over that shows up an hour late and our kids are trying to get taped. We start the game and I can’t remember if it was the first or second half, but Angus comes sprinting off the field, and his index finger is crooked. Doesn’t say a word except walks up to the new trainer he’s never met and says, ‘Pull it.’ She pulls it back into place and he turns around and sprints back on the field. I’ve told that story a thousand times. Most kids are going to go, ‘oh, poor me.’ He just said ‘pull it.’ She had never met him, she pulled his dislocated finger back into place and he turned around and sprinted back on the field and made the tackle on the next play.”

 

Ethan Edwards on Polk Middle’s 28-24 win over Brevard Middle in 2018: “We were in pretty good position in that game, but turned the ball over somewhere inside the 10 late in the game (while trailing). I still have all three timeouts. They run victory formation, and even with my three timeouts they can kneel the ball and end the game. At the first timeout, we see their two guards not blocking. Second timeout, same thing. So, third timeout, I said, Angus, this is all or nothing here. I said, you got the snap count timed up? He said, yes sir. And I said, I want you to hit the quarterback before he touches the ball. Sure enough, they snap it, nobody blocks, he hits him, the ball squirts out and we got on it. Two plays later, we score and win (on a Weaver run with no time remaining). It’s just a major league, almost freak play, something that never happens.”

 

Steve Blatt: “I had the privilege to coach many of the most recent great players at Polk County and Angus is in the top five, if not at the top. His overall body of work is the best story any of us can tell.”

 

Everyone has a favorite story because Weaver shares few of his own. Another of the traits that endears Weaver to so many in Polk County is that for a player who could well own the biggest ego in any room, he often appears to have one of the smallest.

 

“I’ve never seen him be braggadocious,” Ollis said. “He’s our all-time player for power cleans, bench press, deadlift. He’s going to get there on squats. He ran a 4.48 the other day weighing a buck 95. He just comes to work and does his job.

 

“I’ll take a team full of those kind of guys that are focused on winning. That is something that is rare with players today, just because our society elevates that look-at-me guys. I tell players if you play like that guy, you’ll get recognized. You don’t see Angus do anything but score and hand the ball to the official, make a great play on defense and go back to the huddle.”

 

“He’s the most humble kid you’ve ever seen in your life,” said Jeff Weaver. “He has always taken more pride in seeing someone off his team do well than he himself doing well. He works hard, he’s humble and I think a lot of the karma comes back to him because he doesn’t brag on himself.”

 

It’s become common for Weaver to entice a group of teammates to attend big Polk County Middle School games, with the high school players often racing onto the field after wins to celebrate with the middle schoolers. Weaver is also a frequent presence at Polk County Youth Football contests. You’ll see him in the stands at many home volleyball and basketball games, not there to receive the admiration of others; he offers genuine support every time he’s in attendance. It’s part of a team-first mentality that every coach, from youth league up, says Weaver has always owned, and it’s also reflected in how he thinks about the records and statistics that he has accumulated.

 

“I like stats,” Weaver said. “But I think it’s a big team thing as well, though. What I do reflects how the team does. I like to give a lot of effort because I feel like if I do, if I give a lot for my teammates, they’ll give a lot of effort for me. So I like to take pride in what I do.

 

“I tell my parents all the time, I’d rather us win and me not play as well than me play really good enough and still lose.”

 

Angus Weaver scores touchdowns and flips the ball to the nearest official. He makes tackles and returns to the huddle. On-field posing, social media-worthy celebrations, not part of his makeup.

 

Yet beneath that calm exterior burns a competitiveness unmatched by many. “I like winning more than I hate losing” is how Weaver defines it. Others will reinforce that.

 

Yet, win or lose, Saturday mornings during football season are often Weaver’s least favorite part of the week. Being on the field almost every play the night before, doing all he can for one more win, has much to do with that. Weaver is usually involved in contact on every Polk County play, be it rushing the ball 25 times, blocking blitzing linebackers, making 10-15 tackles a game, slamming into the offensive line while rushing the quarterback himself. Plays off are rare because Weaver doesn’t want them.

 

“I wake up, sometimes I do a little stretching,” he said. “I have some salt baths most of the time on Saturdays, and I usually try and go watch the youth play if they’re relatively close. Very sore, very sore. It usually takes me all the way back to Tuesday to get really fully recovered from a game.”

 

“After a game Saturday morning, if you were to come to my house, they would take me and my wife to jail,” said Jeff Weaver. “He looks like someone took a two-by-four to him. He’s bruised from top to bottom and can barely walk.

 

“Usually by dinner time, he’s loosened up, and then he goes and plays golf and he’s good. But it takes him a little bit on Saturday morning.”

 

Why take that beating? Why endure 48 minutes of hit and be hit? For Weaver, those are easy questions to answer.

 

“I’m more in love with the brotherhood,” he said. “You get to meet a bunch of new guys and stay with them. I’ve made lifelong friends with football, so that’s kind of what’s kept me going, probably all throughout high school.

 

“Age six, I was about to quit and my dad convinced me not to and I’ve been grateful for that ever since. I have loved it since then, and I don’t think I could do without it.”

 

The end is quickly approaching for Weaver’s Polk County football career. He likely has two more contests in G.M. Tennant Stadium, the field where he has spent more game time than any other. Then Polk should move into the state 2A playoffs, where every game could be the last of Weaver’s high school days.

 

What comes after that is still a bit of a mystery. The primary numbers that most major college coaches have cared about involve Weaver’s size – 5-11, 195 pounds. Division I coaches are often looking for bigger, no matter how good Weaver’s on-field play has been. But there is plenty of interest at other levels, and Ollis notes that the Shrine Bowl trip will give Weaver a chance to showcase his skills against top recruits for top coaches.

 

He has no doubt Weaver will do just that.

 

“He is a record setter and record breaker,” Ollis said. “But the thing Angus Weaver’s most concerned about is winning, and he exudes that to his teammates and he motivates coaches. He’s a guy that can make coaches feel good about themselves and he’s always a bright spot. He’s somebody we can depend on to always give incredible effort.

 

“Angus is not a rah-rah guy. He’s a competitor that’s kind of quiet. Now I’ve told him, you’ve got to bark a little more. What I mean is if somebody needs to be barked at, you do it so that I don’t have to, and he’s taken that role on a little bit more. But I think the respect that he garners as a person and a player is unmatched for any player I’ve ever coached.”

 

There is no doubt that Weaver will continue his career in college – “He’s going to make someone very happy on Saturdays for the next four or five years,” Sosebee said – which has been the plan all along, driving the workouts and weights and trips and salt baths and celebrations.

 

“When he was four or five years old, I said, what are you going to do with your life?” Jeff Weaver said. “And he said, I want to play high school football, I want to go to a good college, I want to go to the pros and then I want to coach football for the rest of my life. He’s never varied from that from when he was five years old.

 

“He would trade everything he’s got for another day to play football. And we’re hoping that he gets to play for a long time.”

 

And, no doubt, Weaver will be playing well for all those days.

 

“He’s been playing football ever since he was a little kid and it’s just kind of in his genes,” Thompson said.

 

“People adapt to their environment. That’s kind of what we do, and that’s the environment he’s been in, and he’s adapted to do it better than anybody ever has before.”

 

Head up, eyes wide, always moving forward.