By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Bethel College Assistant Coach Paul Frazier has seen his share of M&M Bowls between the Munford Cougars and Millington Trojans.
In the most recent addition back in September, Frazier watched Millington running back Antonio Webber dominant the action Friday and Saturday nights. Despite Webber leading the game in rushing and scoring three touchdowns, the Trojans were defeated by one point.
But Frazier had seen enough to know Webber was a weapon he wanted for his Wildcats.
“Just his persona and the way he handled himself during that game, just the way Coach Michael and staff used him in that game,” Frazier noted, “with their offensive scheme, he was a force to be reckon with. Munford just struggled at times trying to stop him. He had two or three touchdowns. I was sold after that.”
Webber officially became a Wildcat Feb. 20 after signing his national letter of intent in the Millington Central High School Library among friends, family, coaches, teammates and his adoptive parents Chris and Jessica Yeager.
Webber said the day he officially became a part of the Yeager family in December 2011, he was on his way to becoming a college running back. Millington Head Coach Chris Michael saw the metamorphosis in his stud running back over the last three years.
“He’s a much more mature young man over the years from his freshman,” he said. “He’s changed as an individual on how he approaches every things in his day-to-day living. How he approaches school and as he played football over the years how he approached practice everyday, the mentality he went into the games with, all of that shows a young man who went from 15 and 16 who didn’t have any direction to a 17, 18 year old young man who knew what exactly what he wanted to do.”
When Webber arrived on the Millington campus four years ago, his main goal was to be the next star running back following in the footsteps of Marlon Barnes from the early 1990s to Mr. Football 2008 Tausean Holmes.
Webber shared the backfield with current UT-Martin Skyhawk Roland Genesy. From the I-formation of Tommy Harrison to Hank Hawkins’ Wing-T, several Millington running backs reached the college level.
But Webber’s home life jeopardized his chances of reaching his full potential. Home life was tough for Webber and then his teacher and friend Mrs. Yeager gave him an opportunity to have a stable life away from the school, football field and basketball court.
“It was real important,” Webber said of his move. “Grandma gave them custody to take care of me because even through I was going through a lot of ups and downs, I was really going through more downs than up. I’m glad God actually pulled me out and I’m happy that the Yeagers came and took me in. It just made my life so much better.
“You have to take a lot of responsibility to get to where you want to be,” he added. “And I took a lot of responsibility after my Grandma had did some things. I’m not mad at her. I wish she was here to be at my signing today, my Mom and my Grandma. I know they’re looking down on me, and I know I’m going to make them happy wherever I go.”
Two of the biggest smiles at Webber’s signing were Chris and Jessica.
“This is the very thing he’s been working for,” Jessica said. “He’s worked so hard in the last year and half. His grades have turned around tremendously. This is his accomplishment. He has earned this. It’s not just his athletics. It’s his academics and his personality and God-given drive to succeed that got him here.”
Chris said providing Webber with a stable family life playing a role in his accomplishment makes him proud.
“Just to see him change and grow into the person he is now,” he said, “that’s the main thing we worked on, to get him on a schedule, just how life works. One of the things he first told me when he moved in, he wanted to learn how to be a man. It’s been interesting but it’s been great.”
Jessica said Webber has been a great fit into the Yeager household and he has added to the quality of life to everyone.
“We’ve seen a lot of maturity in him,” she said. “Of course every kid makes mistakes but he’s willing to own up to his mistakes and learn from them. He has really bought into the things we try to teach him. He loves his little sister (Averie), he loves his grandparents and he loves his family.
“Of course watching him on the football field and on the basketball court, we’re his biggest fans,” Jessica continued. “But it’s the day-to-day stuff, the laughs in the kitchen, the jokes in the living room. He has made our lives really complete. We have a baby on the way. We waited a long time for our second child. But Antonio was the second child we prayed for.”
On the field and court Webber answered some of the prayers of Trojan faithful with clutch plays. As a freshman he helped Rob Sabau’s freshman basketball team win the Shelby County championship. Suiting up in falls, Webber was a key contributor for Michael’s 2011 District 14-3A championship team.
“They’re all great coaches,” Webber said. “Who wouldn’t want to learn from the best. They’ve all been through what we’re going through. They’re all great. I still wish I was a junior so I can come back and play with them again and learn more. But I got a lot of good experience from them.”
Webber got an education in two offenses from Michael and staff. His first three years as a Trojan, he played in the Wing-T which features three running backs. But this past season, Webber stood in the backfield with only a quarterback in the Spread.
“There’s been a lot of great ones,” Michael noted. “The earlier years, you were basically in a one-back system. There was always one featured guy and everybody knew who the best way. Then through Coach (Hank) Hawkins and our years, we would run the Wing-T system.
“A couple of guys would excel and standout,” he continued. ‘So we’ve had a bunch of great ones. Antonio excelled in the Wing-T. He was a great compliment to Roland Genesy and the guys we had in the backfield with him.”
Then the 2012 season gave Webber a chance to shine and be the feature part of the Millington running attack.
“Then as we moved into the Spread this year, he became more of a feature back guy in a different system than Coach (Tommy) Harrison’s Stick-I,” Michael noted. “He just showed his versatility and ability to run between the tackles, his ability to catch balls. As a complete back he’s probably at the top of the list with what he’s able to do.
“From a speed standpoint and a power standpoint, inside runner and outside runner and his ability to catch the ball, probably one of the most complete backs we had to play here,” Michael added.
Webber said he might not belong up there with an Ahmaad Galloway who attended Alabama or a Holmes who just wrapped up his Arkansas State tenure, but he’s glad to be the latest Trojan runner to ink a letter of intent.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “People look at me like I should go to Alabama or Arkansas State. You don’t have to go to the SEC to make it to the point of where you want to go. You look at people like Jerry Rice. He went to a small college (Mississippi Valley State) and look where he’s at. I’m happy with where I’m going and I’m going to succeed to make it to where I want to go.
“Wherever I belong on the list is where I belong,” Webber concluded. “I just hope everything turns out good at Bethel. They gave me my number and hopefully that’s my permanent jersey. Everybody knows that No. 28 running out there. It’s going to be a good college life for me.”
For Frazier, a former Cougar, he’s lined up to stop some of those great Millington running backs. He said he’s glad he didn’t have to face Webber. He’s even happier he has the running back on his side for the future.
“He is one of the best especially since I graduated from Munford,” he said. “You can remember little Aaron West. He was a force to be reckon with as well. I played against Miguel Barnes and Gary Askew. He’s up there with them.
“We’ll probably use him both ways as a fullback and tailback,” Frazier concluded. “He has the body build and body size to utilize that. We’ll give him a fair opportunity at tailback to see how he does.”