Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Weller waits for college opportunity

Moments after the judges called out the numbers Saturday -- "Fifty-two feet, eight inches!" -- his coaches came running to hug him, congratulate him, celebrate with him. Zach Weller! New Christiansburg school record-holder in the shot put!

Has a nice ring.

Especially considering he's only been doing this whole track thing for two years.

But that's just how Weller operates. Try it. Succeed. He took up wrestling as a senior this year and helped one of the nation's top programs win its biggest dual meet of the season, scoring a pin against Grundy in the 215-pound weight division. As a freshman linebacker on varsity, he recorded a Timesland-leading 210 tackles.

As a junior, he came out for track to try to sharpen his speed for football -- only to blossom into one of the area's top shot and discus throwers. His winning performance in the shot put at Saturday's prestigious Cosmopolitan Invitational bumps him to the top of Timesland's leaderboard in that event.

And now that he's asserted himself academically this year, he's pulled his grades up considerably. Still, his GPA (2.7) and SAT score (940) seem incongruent with the bright, eager teen that Weller is.

"I am kind of ticked that I didn't do my best in the classroom," Weller said. "I figured that out way too late, I guess you could say."

Anybody who knows Weller says the same thing: Somebody out there needs to give this kid a chance. They're vehement about it. Forget his 4.7-second time in the 40-yard dash and actually watch the guy play on the field, see the way his 6-foot-1, 215-pound body glides and attacks, marvel in the ferocity of his hits.

Watch him lead the younger guys on the track team, teaching them what he knows. Watch him improve, week by week, in anything he tries.

"Can you please say this is in the article?" said Cassidy Jones, Weller's throwing coach. "Schools that need an all-state linebacker, great thrower, great kid, great leader, he's waiting on offers. Seriously. He will work harder than any kid out there."

And in the classroom?

"If someone gave him a chance, I think he'd prove himself big time in the classroom," she said. "I don't worry about that at all."

Head coach Shane Guynn nearly got choked up while singing Weller's praises.

"Gosh, you're making me think about this," he said. "I hate that he's leaving after this year."

Those who watched him as an All-Group AA performer at linebacker hate the fact that this final month of track season could be it for him as an athlete. Weller hates it, too.

"I don't want it to be it, I will tell you that," Weller said. "But it's looking that way. I had high hopes, but they were pretty much shot down last summer."

That was when he realized that the bigger schools weren't going to touch him -- or even recommend that he walk on. Concord and Ferrum showed interest, and while Weller appreciates that, those weren't schools he wanted to attend. He's got a recruiting visit to Charleston Southern coming up this month, but at this point, he thinks he'll wind up at New River Community College next fall.

Meanwhile, he can't go anywhere without fielding questions of why he's not getting bigger offers.

"If I had a penny, dude, for every time I heard that," Weller said. "Everybody's like, 'It's crazy that you're not going anywhere.' "

And maybe the lesson here is that you need to have a plan. Much the way Weller didn't consider wrestling or track -- both of which he now greatly enjoys -- until late into his career, he admits he didn't take the best approach in the classroom until it might have been too late.

"We talk about that every day," friend and teammate Nick Criner said. "I have class with him, and we talk about how if we could go back to freshman year, we would just change stuff all over again. We would realize what we wanted to do in football that year. We would realize our academics and how important it is to go to college and we would have started picking it up then. I did the same thing he did."

Criner, an offensive lineman, is heading to Emory & Henry to play football next year. Weller, meanwhile, is trying to make the most of his final month of high school, both on and off the field.

"I almost made A/B honor roll this year, and before that it was not even close," Weller said. "I wasn't failing classes, but I wasn't doing the best I could do. I can definitely say that."

He could say a lot of things, but his humility won't allow it, so others say it for him. He's a heck of a shot-putter, a terrific football player, an athlete with, as Jones put it, "limitless potential."

He just needs to find a believer.


Read Aaron McFarling's Daily Sports Briefing on the Press Box blog weekday mornings at

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