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Rusty Baynes, Steven Turner, Jared Johns

A Century of THS Football
Part VIII - The Weaver Years

By Michael Butler

Woody Weaver was hired at Tallassee High School in 1972 by then head football coach and athletic director Duane Webster. Weaver was a basketball star at Robert E. Lee in Montgomery and played college ball at Huntingdon College in the early 1960s.

In the book, "'Echoes' of Robert E. Lee High School: The First Decade, 1955-65," Weaver's basketball prowess was documented.

"Guards Ware Tatum and Woody Weaver were not only good ball handler but big enough to provide much-needed help on the boards. Weaver would continue his career as a Huntingdon College Hall of Fame player. Weaver was the leading scorer for the Generals. He also pulled in 185 rebounds."

Longtime Tallassee coach Frank Autery went to high school with Weaver.

"Woody and I go back a long way," Autery said. "We both graduated from Lee. He was a grade ahead of me. Woody was good. If they'd let them jam it when he was playing, he would've torn the goal down."

Autery and Weaver played on Lee teams that faced Tallassee during the early 1960s.

"Tallassee was on Lee's schedule," Autery said. "You talk about a crowded Cramton Bowl back then. I think somebody said that the whole town of Tallassee closed. The (Lee) head coach was Tom Jones. His brother (Melvin) was the principal at the elementary school (at Tallassee). I think coach Jones had Tallassee to help out the athletic program. Everything went to Tallassee from that game. Lee got nothing whatsoever, concessions and tickets."

Michael Weldon in the open field during the '87 season

Tallassee was no stranger to Cramton Bowl during the O'Brien era with games vs. Lanier. Lee became the Montgomery rival later. The Generals had a perfect 10-0 record in games vs. the Tigers from 1956-65.

"We just had more players than Tallassee did. We wore them down."

Basketball was more competitive Autery remembered.

"We'd come the backroads. You go all away around the world to play basketball in the old gym, the sweatbox."

Weaver, like Autery, coached basketball and football at THS.

Craig Vaught played for Weaver in both sports and told of Weaver's "Hoosiers" philosophy on the basketball court.

"His rule was everybody on the court had to touch it. There had to be five passes before you could shoot the ball," Vaught said.

Steve Stokes also played for Weaver and recalls his locker room rants.

Woody Weaver (standing, center) was an assistant coach on Ronnie Baynes' staff in 1981. Pictured with Baynes (kneeling) are (standing, left to right): Greg Curry, Frank Autery, Weaver, Ron McDaniel, Tim Posey.

"We'd go in at halftime and I'd be the one that he would chew on," Stokes said. "He knew I could take it, but he was actually talking to everybody else in the room too."

Vaught was also on the other end of some of those tongue lashings.

"Coach Weaver's hat would get cocked sideways and he would start spitting. You knew then that you were in trouble.

Weaver's first head coaching job in football was actually at Catholic of Montgomery in 1966. The Knights went 5-5.

"When I got out of college (Catholic) offered me a job, so I took it," Weaver said. "It was assistant football and head basketball. The second year the coach left and I had to do football and basketball."

Weaver was the junior high football coach in addition to his duties as varsity basketball coach during his early years at Tallassee.

"Coach Weaver's 1972 junior high Tigers was his best team," former player Tony Mann said.

There were five different head coaches of the varsity Tigers from 1972-1986; Duane Webster, Ronnie Baynes, Marc Rice, Steve McCord and Billy Beck. Tallassee produced just five winning seasons during that span.

"They had asked me a couple of times if I was interested," Weaver said of opportunities to head the high school program in football. "At that time other people knew more about football than I did. Mr. (Russell) Stokes and (Glen) Baggett got after me so I said I'd try it."

Weaver's try came after Beck went 3-17 in 1985 and '86. He took over in 1987.

Tallassee players strike a celebration pose after their victory over No. 1 ranked Reeltown in 1988

Over the next seven seasons Weaver would go 45-32 bringing stability and success to the program. His best year was in 1991 when Tallassee made its deepest run in the playoffs since 1984 with a trip to the quarterfinals going 11-2. The 11-win season in '91 was the most ever at the time by a Tallassee team.

Coach Carl Stewart was a new hire to Weaver's first varsity coaching staff.

"Woody said if you'll come and do your job everyday, you'll get a fair shake," Stewart said. "I just believed in him."

Stewart and Weaver are still best friends to this day.

Weaver with Duane Webster in 1987. Reeltown won 20-6. It was the only head-to-head meeting between the two coaches. Webster hired Weaver at Tallassee in 1972.

Weaver was 20-4 in 1990 and '91.

"I had those kids in junior high. They had won and had a little bit of confidence," Weaver said. "That's one of the reasons I coached. These kids wanted an opportunity to win."

Keith Tuck played with Weaver in junior high.

"Coach Weaver would give me a certain type of look which he and I had from junior high school that I knew (meant) it was time for me to deliver."

Weaver's first trip to the post-season came in his second year as head coach at Tallassee. The Tigers went 7-3 after a 5-5 campaign in Weaver's first year at the helm.

On Friday, Nov. 4 of the 1988 season THS traveled to Sylacauga to meet B.B. Comer in a first round playoff game only to have to turn around and come home due to stormy weather. The day's delay was worth the wait.

B.B. Comer advanced with a 47-45 victory, but the game went into five overtime periods. To this day, it is the only game that Tallassee has lost when scoring 40 or more points. They are 38-1 in such games.

"What probably hurt us most is Jeri Goodman got hurt. He was our kicker," Weaver said. "A couple of times we could've kicked and had an opportunity to win."

Tuck was the workhorse in the marathon game.

Players take a break in 1987

"I remember going over and having to come back over. That was deflating. Playing on a Saturday was new to me," Tuck said. "I scored five touchdowns. I was well conditioned but tired. It was a hard-hitting game. We knew we were the better team. Clearly in my mind we won that game. I think we were cheated. One of the plays they said we had too many on the line. Before that play, the coaches told the referees what we were going to do. One of the guys still called a penalty. We actually scored on that play. That would've put it out of reach. The game would have been over."

The two-point play that would have extended the game into a sixth overtime came up short with the ball in Tuck's hands.

"They cheated over and stacked the line where they knew the ball was coming to me. If I could've done something else, I would've. As soon as that ball was snapped, they knew exactly where it was going. I probably got two yards. Going into five overtimes, we had chances to put the game away. We left everything out on the field."

It would be Tuck's final game in high school. He went on to play at Alabama State.

Stewart described how grueling the extended game was.

"Mark Griggs played defensive end. It was hard-nosed football, three yards and a cloud of dust. They ran the power, block down and kick out. After the game, I remember the managers helping him get his shoulder pads off. His chest and shoulders were just blue. He was battered, but he stuck in there every play."

After the heartbreaking defeat Stewart remembered a message Weaver had for the team.

"I remember what Woody said. He told the kids that wasn't going to be the worst thing that happened to them. Recently, one of our former players lost a child. We went to visit him. The kid quoted that verbatim. He said, 'Coach, you were right. Football is a game.' I thought that was the best tribute anybody could pay to a coach."

From 1988-91, Weaver's teams were ranked in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll each season. In '88, Tallassee cracked the poll for the first time in five seasons appearing at No. 10 in week two. In '89, the Tigers climbed as high as No. 4. In '90, the team's highest ranking was No. 6. In '91 Tallassee's peak position was No. 4.

Celebrating the win over Lanett in '87

The four successive seasons in the rankings is the only such streak for Tallassee in the poll era.

Weaver's squad knocked off No. 1 Lanett in 1987 14-9 in Tallassee. The Panthers had won 12 straight in the series and 22 of the past 23.

"We called timeout," Stewart remembered. "Jonathan Johns was our safety. I said on film they like to run the option down on the goal line. Sure enough when Lanett ran the option they put it out there and hand the ball to Jonathan Johns. He took the ball into the end zone and we were able to win."

Lanett reached the semifinals that season falling to Elmore County 6-0. The Panthers from Eclectic went on to win the 4A state championship.

Elmore County's Terry Burt and Weaver faced off eight times from 1987-94. Weaver was 6-2 in the rivalry. He was 3-2 vs. Reeltown during his Tallassee tenure.

Weaver and Reeltown's Duane Webster met in the only meeting between the pair as head coaches in Webster's last season in 1987. Reeltown won 20-6 in Reeltown.

"It's no different than any other game. You're trying to win," Weaver said of facing his friend Webster. "They had better athletes than we had. They had a real good football team. It might have been the best team we played all year."

The Rebels went a perfect 15-0 and claimed the 2A state crown.

"We played a lot of tough teams that year," Weaver said of his first season.

The following season in '88, Tallassee beat the defending state champion and top-ranked Rebels 9-6 at O'Brien Stadium.

The win came a week after the Tigers fell to Lanett 7-0, a season removed from Tallassee's win over the No. 1 Panthers in '87.

Starting running back Keith Tuck was injured in the Lanett loss.

"I was getting tackled and a guy came up and horse collared me. He pulled me back over my right ankle. I sprained that thing pretty bad," Tuck said. "We had Reeltown coming up. You're talking about the biggeset rival in the state.

"That Saturday morning I was at the gym icing to get ready. Coach Stewart (said), 'In order for you to be ready to play in the Reeltown game, I'm going to have to come and pick you up every morning at 5 before school.' I told him that I would be ready. I was at the front door waiting on him every morning."

Tuck's week-long recovery regimen enabled him to play a major role in one of Tallassee's biggest victories.

Weaver and O'Neal after Tallassee's 9-6 victory in 1988

Tuck scored Tallassee's only touchdown in the win with an 83-yard run. Scott Hewitt's kicked a 19-yard field goal as well.

"When coach Weaver called that 28 sweep, I saw a hole and hit (it). I knew it was over," said Tuck. "I saw two guys. One was Larry Foye. I knew he didn't have a chance of catching me. The fastest guy was actually my first cousin, Kenyattie Silcott. He had an angle. He and I were closely matched in speed, but when you match speed with energy, (a) will to win and to die for your cause then that was definitely the position I was in that game. There was no catching me."

The Tiger Tracks Yearbook had an article on the THS win.

"The Tallassee Tigers did exactly what they had to do Friday night to beat the Reeltown Rebels. Full of desire, the Tigers played the best game they could."

The victory came before 3,000 fans according to the Tiger Tracks report. Tallassee's win ended Reeltown's 20-game win streak. The streak is still the longest for Reeltown to this day.

"I knew nobody was going to leak that I was hurt," Tuck said. "We were all I hyped. I knew I had a job to do. I knew they were going to depend on me, especially with them coming off of a state championship."

The win in '88 led to a new tradition for players after wins on Saturday mornings at the East Tallassee Cafe.

"We met wearing our jerseys," Tuck said. "We ate breakfast."

Tallassee beat the Rebels in 1989 24-7 and in '90 14-7, but Reeltown handed Tallassee its only regular season loss in '91 with a 28-0 blowout.

"I had a hernia, so I had to have surgery and missed some practice that week," Weaver said. "I'm sure that had an effect. Sometimes you run into a buzzsaw and a team is a little more prepared than you think they're going to be. We just didn't play a good ball game that day."

Perez Hicks was a first-team ASWA defensive lineman selection in 1991

Coach Stewart has family ties with Reeltown. Longtime Rebel coach and Hall of Famer Jackie O'Neal is Stewart's brother-in-law.

"Jackie's a competitor," Stewart said. "We grew up together, fished together. We both wanted to win."

Stewart commented on rumors that Tallassee did not play to win in the 1991 game.

"They played a tremendous game," he said of Reeltown. "My nephew Corey was the quarterback. Going back and looking at the film, he may have had one bad read. Everything they did was perfection."

The Reeltown/Tallassee series was halted after after an off-field incident in 1991. It returned in 1996.

"Coach (Steve) McCord was instrumental in getting it (back)," Stewart said. "I stayed out of it as an administrator."

The rivalry ceased again in 2003.

"At times it was feisty," Stewart added, "but we both respected each other."

Keith Tuck and Mike Segrest were game captains for Tallassee in the Reeltown game of 1988

The "Battle of the Tallapoosa" is on the schedule once again as the 2020 season opener.

Johnny Hammock was a player for Tallassee under Weaver in '91, but he could have been wearing blue instead of purple.

"I grew up on the Tallapoosa side with a lot of the players that played for Reeltown," Hammock said. "I lived in an area where I could've gone to either one. Half of the kids on my street rode the bus to Reeltown. Half of them went to Tallassee. My mom worked at the bank on Barnett Boulevard played a key factor on where I started school at Reeltown or Tallassee."

"I could've been at Oak Heights Grocery to get a bag of chips or a Coke or at Hilltop Grocery. I can remember some of the coaches from Reeltown trying to recruit me."

Hammock, a 1993 THS graduate, was elected mayor of Tallassee in 2016.

"(Coach Weaver) had a son on the team, Steven," Hammock said. "I played on offense and defense for coach Weaver and (Carl) Stewart. They also had great advice. My favorite subject in school was history, so I had coach Stewart. He was like a father figure to me. Coach Stewart didn't approve of some of my friends. He said, 'Hammock, I'm gonna tell you this - you hang around crap, you'll eventually smell like it.' I've used that one several times.'

1993 Majorettes

One of the wildest finishes during Weaver's term or of any THS coach came during the 1990 season. It was homecoming. Greensboro was not the typical homecoming cupcake. The Raiders came into J. E. "Hot" O'Brien Stadium with a 6-2 record. Tallassee was 7-1.

The visitors jumped out to a 14-0 first-half lead, but the Tigers battled back to tie it with touchdown runs by Jonathan Rivers and John Barrett.

Greensboro took a 17-14 lead with a field goal and appeared to be on their way to victory with less than two minutes to play. Tallassee's Darren Taylor thought otherwise with a strip of the football as the Raiders were attempting to run out the clock at their own 10-yard-line.

The Tigers took over with less than a minute left. Desmond Thornton had set up an earlier TD with a 24-yard catch but was not having one of his best nights.

"I couldn't catch a pass if you would've handed it to me with stickers on," Thornton said. "The teammates were so encouraging. They looked at me and said, 'Dez, you going to catch this one?' Coach Stewart was the receivers coach. He said, 'Be ready.'

With 37 seconds left in the game, Stewart called Thornton's number in what would become the game winner.

"It was a Z route to the corner of the end zone, down where Jack's (Restaurant) is now," Thornton said. "Jonathan hit me on the helmet and said, 'Catch the doggone ball.' He threw it down there. I slid and caught it. The crowd went wild. Mr. (Rob) Johnson was the principal at that time. He was one of the first ones to meet me. "

Tallassee won 21-17 for a happy homecoming.

"It's something that you tell your children," said Thornton. "It's unbelievable. (I) couldn't catch a cold in that game, (but) the team believed in me. It's amazing. I'll never forget that."

1990 Breakdown by Phil Neel (courtesy of John David Lambert)

Three straight years, Tallassee was beaten by Handley in the playoffs (14-7 in 1991, 24-21 in 1992 and 28-0 in 1993).

Craig Vaught talked about the 1990 team and the 14-7 loss to Handley that ended the season.

"We had a good team. We had a lot of good athletes," he said. "Handley had a running back named Stacy Garrett. They ran a reverse with him. I was the free safety. When we collided, he knocked my jaw out of socket. I didn't know where I was. I couldn't even put my mouthpiece in. I played the rest of the game and eventually my jaw got popped back in."

The next season, a 24-21 loss at O'Brien Stadium came down to a final kick by Handley which was ruled good.

"I thought it was wide," Stewart said, "but the officials didn't see it that way. I guess officials don't make bad calls. It cost us."

1990       1991    
at Wetumpka W 24-7   vs. Wetumpka W 14-7
vs. Grand Bay W 34-0   at Graceville, Fla. W 13-7
vs. Pike County W 17-9   at Pike County W 20-7
at Stanhope Elmore L 21-10   vs. Stanhope Elmore W 20-12
vs. Elmore County W 34-6   at Elmore County W 26-6
vs. Reeltown W 14-7   at Reeltown L 28-0
at Lanett W 42-15   vs. Lanett W 28-15
at Central Coosa W 54-7   vs. Central Coosa W 20-6
vs. Greensboro W 21-17   at Greensboro W 24-22
at Dadeville W 40-8   vs. Dadeville W 17-13
vs. Handley L 14-7   vs. Lanett W 32-6
        at Livingston W 28-21
        vs. Handley L 24-21

The 1990 and '91 teams are regarded as Weaver's best. Each had 9-1 regular seasons.

"They were both good," he said. "You hate to compare. Both teams played well. It's hard to go through a year and be undefeated. We had good enough athletes. We had an opportunity to win a (championship) if things went our way."

Stewart spoke of the title expectations during that time.

"The Montgomery Advertiser did a story at the beginning of the season. They said the state playoffs will go through Tallassee. The biggest Achille's Hill that we always faced was the number of games. We played seven or eight kids both ways. Our kids were in supreme condition. We just didn't have the numbers."

Many times in high school sports, success in one sport breeds success in another. That was the case in football and baseball with the caliber of athletes Tallassee produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Ronnie Baynes' baseball teams won five state titles from 1986-92 and three straight from '89-'91. Weaver's Class of '92 football squad went 27-7 from '89-91. On the baseball field they were 75-12 from '90-'92.

Three players on the 1990 football team would go on to be selected in the Major League Draft. Jonathan Rivers and Craig Vaught were drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Bernard Hutchinson was picked by the Colorado Rockies. Jonathan's older brother Alfred was a senior on the '89 football squad and drafted by the Seattle Mariners.

"Bernard went to Montevallo," Vaught said, "and set unbelievable records. They retired his jersey."

"We would go out on the corner and fake that pitch to (Bernard)," assistant coach Autery said. "Jonathan would get those legs going. He was in the endzone in no time. He could throw the ball too."

Vaught talked about Rivers' ability and the interest that he drew.

"My senior year, Jonathan's junior year, Oklahoma and Notre Dame were sitting in Tallassee, Alabama looking at Jonathan," Vaught said. "He could throw a football flat-footed 70 yards on a line. When you had the stable of running backs that we had with Jonathan, it was successful."

Chris Lackey played football and baseball as well with Rivers and remembers the phenom in the making when they were teammates on Tallassee's Dixie Youth Baseball World Series championship team in 1987.

"When he was 12," Lackey said of Rivers. "He was probably 6 feet and weighed 185 pounds. Not only was he bigger and stronger than everybody else, he was also faster and quicker."

Rivers was a towering giant on the 1987 Dixie Youth Baseball World Series championship team

Rivers remembered that special summer as a 12 year old.

"It was a great experience," he said. "I really enjoyed it even though it took up my whole summer vacation. I enjoyed playing with the guys, especially the guys from Reeltown; Cory O'Neal, Larry Butler, Michael Bryant.

1987 managers (front, left to right): Brandon Welch, Paul Glass, Shannon Huey. (Back, left to right): Lloyd Alford, David Gresham, John Stonaker.

"I was 6-1. Everyone was like, 'Who is this guy? Must be your coach.' So, everywhere I'd go I had to take my birth certificate. I was so much taller and bigger than everyone else."

Rivers was the MVP at the World Series then and still holds the record for highest batting average at .765.

"I was like 13-for-17," he said. "I was trying to knock everything out."

One of Rivers' homers was a Kelly Leak moment, ala "The Bad News Bears."

A team from LaGrange, Georgia kept throwing pitches outside," Rivers said. "I was like, I'm going to stand close to the plate. I know I can reach out and hit this ball right here. So, I leaned up for a good pitch I could hit and hit it over the right field wall."

After his high school days in Tallassee, Rivers played for six and a half years in the Blue Jays and Cubs minor league systems.

"Jonathan was one of those athletes that you don't get very often," Weaver said. "Bernard was real smart. He would've been a great quarterback."

Stewart agreed.

"Jonathan had as much natural ability as anyone I've been around. Jonathan played safety and Bernard played corner. They were the two brightest players on the football field that I ever coached at Tallassee."

Weaver's 1987 Seniors

Weaver chose to retire after a 1-9 season in '93, but he would return to coach the purple and gold again. After Steve McCord's return to Tallassee in 1994 and decision to leave again in 1996, the Tigers needed a replacement. Stewart called on Weaver when things fell through when Clay County's Danny Horn turned down Tallassee's offer.

"I called and said, 'Coach, what do you think about one more time?' He said, 'I don't know any of these kids.' He said, 'No.' I called him that morning again. He said, 'If you'll do it, I'll do it.'"

Stewart and Weaver

Weaver and Stewart teamed up for one final season going 4-7 in 1997.

Phillip Nelson was a player for Weaver and Stewart.

"One of things I will always remember about coach Weaver is to act like you've been there," he said. "If we didn't, like the time we danced on the wall after the 9-6 victory over Reeltown, we had to pay for it on Monday. I think we were part track team and part football team. They worked us but it taught us what hard work would get. Those were great life lessons that you can achieve your goals if you're willing to work for them."

Stewart worked as THS principal afterward. Weaver is now closing in on 50 years with the Tallassee City School system serving today as truancy officer.

"It's hard to believe. In one capacity or another, it's been a long run."

1991-92 Cheerleaders