The sounds ingrained in the white and gray brick are immortal. The roars of thanks, of dedication paid off, of all the times they’d thought about walking off the field and never looking back.
For all the nights they took the lonely, all-too-familiar walk to the locker room to take off their helmets and pads and prepare to face a crowd filled with doctored smiles.
Their screams echoed, bouncing off the walls inside the visitors locker room at Gean Plaga Stadium, and they didn’t stop. They kept on.
They kept on because they won. The Weber Warriors won. They won for the first time since Sept. 17, 2010. It had been 23 games since their last victory, a 43-0 win over rival Roy nearly three years ago — two years, 11 months and seven days to be exact — but that was the past.
It is the past.
The Warriors, a team whose seniors playing their first game of the final year of their high school careers never had clapped mightily at the end of the game, who’d never gone on to celebrate a win with their family over burgers and shakes were undefeated.
“This will be a day I remember forever,” senior Huston Wade said.
Weber’s 27-7 win over West in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday night snapped the longest losing streak in Utah. The Warriors, as first-year coach Matt Hammer requires, played fast, played hard and finished.
For the first time in nearly three years, the Warriors finished.
“It’s a long time coming,” senior running back Auston Tesch said, “but we played how we wanted to play.”
They played to win.
Where it started
Matt Hammer first met his team on Jan. 14. Hammer, a former offensive coordinator and assistant coach at Weber State University under Ron McBride and John L. Smith, looked into the prospect of getting off the road recruiting and spending more time at home with his wife and two young children.
He was a wide receiver and defensive back at Southern Utah University and played for Gary Andersen. That’s when he fell in love with coaching.
So when Hammer explored the possibility of joining the prep ranks, he started scanning schools in Weber County.
He asked a family friend about Weber. He’d kept tabs on the Pleasant View area through his recruiting, but he was trying to comprehend how the program that won the Class 4A title in 1999 had taken a long fall from grace.
The message was that the program needed someone who cares, a coach who will go above and beyond what’s needed to have players believe, to compete and perhaps win some football games.
“Coach installed a winning culture here,” junior defensive back Nick Austin said. “He just got us all going and he got us committed, and that’s what’s made it all better. He’s a great man, and we play our hardest. The culture is all changed.”
But it took some time.
Hammer had to connect the dots as to why a 5A school with a history of producing athletes couldn’t field a team. He said for one reason or another the “system was broken,” adding that the recreational youth program up to the middle school and junior high feeder programs were disjointed.
“There was no continuity from when they were 8 until they were 18,” he said.
He rectified that by essentially re-recruiting the entire school upon his hire.
And when it finally was Hammer’s time to address his players minutes before kicking off at West, his voice reached new heights.
“What’s going to happen tonight?” he asked his team. “We’re going to win, right?”
Senior Austin Dew spent much of his pregame time in the locker room vocalizing rap lyrics and cracking jokes while many teammates sat quietly, incessantly bobbing their knees in anticipation. Senior captain Ryan Beal was in a cramped corner nearly catatonic waiting for those 48 minutes.
The white and gray brick encapsulated the sounds, but also the heat and stench.
“That’s work,” Nick Austin said. “That ain’t stink. It’s work.”
Once Hammer and the Weber coaching staff threw in their two cents, Dew stood on a chair in front of a whiteboard that, in large skinny letters read: “Win The Day.”
Dew, like Hammer, ensured the sounds inside the visitor’s locker room wouldn’t be forgotten.
“We are not normal,” Dew yelled. “We are legends.”
Legends in their own right.
Fueled by junior quarterback Cole Dean and Tesch along with junior running back Hunter Bell, the Warriors chipped away at the West defense. They controlled the clock. They forced four turnovers. They broke long runs on third down.
On a third down midway through the first quarter, Dean threaded a pass down the seam to Wade, who took two thunderous hits only to pop right up and point to the crowd.
Tesch punched it in twice from short-yardage situations, and Dean showcased his gall in making pinpoint touchdown passes to Jaxon Porter and Mike Baker.
“We were so pissed off,” Wade said. “We wanted a win so bad, it was ridiculous.”
When the fourth quarter started at Gean Plaga Stadium, the once-lowly Warriors, a program that was the laughingstock of Utah high school football for two years, were cruising, up 27-0.
Defensive coordinator Andre Dyson, a former University of Utah cornerback who played in the NFL from 2001 to 2007, nearly ran to midfield when his defense made the final stop of the game, a fourth-and-1 situation with just two minutes left on the scoreboard.
“The only thing I think is win,” he said. “Even when I lose, I think I win.”
Hammer eventually snagged Dean by the jersey and pulled his 6-foot-4 frame down to his level and whispered in his ear.
Dean knelt the ball as Hammer was drenched in his introductory Gatorade bath.
“First game as a head coach … great kids, great community and hopefully we can do this for a long time,” Hammer said. “I definitely remember the feeling of what it took to win.”
The Warriors eagerly rolled through the post-game line with the Panthers before taking the long sprint toward their sideline and the Weber faithful filling the visitor’s bleachers to the brim.
Players leapt into the stands as the student body chanted their names. It was more than a victory, it was an accumulation of bad suddenly formed into good.
“I’m just going to remember being able to sleep at night for the first time in a while,” Tesch said, his grin growing larger.
After Wade had been mobbed by his teammates and classmates, he said there were times he entertained the idea of not walking up the small concrete hill to the field at Weber High School. The losing had, for a moment, become too much.
“You definitely have that,” he said, “but there’s just something about the love of the game that keeps you going.”
After filing back into the visitors locker room under the stands at West High School, the Warriors left it all out. Some players continued to holler, while others, like Beal, walked around in a daze, in pure disbelief of the moment.
In leading the post-game prayer, Tesch said the team was grateful it could bring the pride back to Weber.
Hammer followed a few moments later, telling his players to grab their gear and beeline it for the buses waiting for them because the party was back home in Pleasant View.
As the last member of the Weber program to board the bus home, Hammer hugged his two young children and received dozens of handshakes and hugs.
Then he paused.
“1,072 days,” he said. “No more. Glad it’s over.”
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, hours after his team ended the streak and started the 2013 season 1-0, Hammer posted a message on the Warrior football Facebook page.
It read: “27-7 Weber over West … well done Warriors. So happy to be your coach.”
The streak • Warriors lost 23 consecutive games before Friday’s win at West
All-time record • 281-460-22
State titles • 2 (1999, 1985)