A successful first season of competitive weightlifting saw five members of the Foundation Academy weightlifting team — all of whom are also football players — qualify for states.
In most cases, success requires both patience and time.
Just as Rome was not built in a day, neither are sports programs — which often suffer through tremendous growing pains in their infancy.
But, if you’re the Foundation Academy weightlifting team, hard work pays off immediately.
In their first competitive season in school history, the Lions already have won the Class 1A, District 12 title and had five lifters compete in the state competition after an incredibly successful showing in the regional meet. All of the immediate success has been a fun surprise, said Andre Walker — the school’s head football coach, who also serves as a coach for the weightlifting team.
“It was shocking, but not so much too shocking, because everybody on the team worked diligently and very hard — it’s just surprising in the sense that it’s our first year,” Walker said. “Now, regionals was a big shocker to everybody, but I think going forward — into the state meet — we’re going to do well. The reason being is we kind of got to feel out the competition.”
A funny thing about the five — Donovan Branch, Bryan Thomas, Edward Byrd, Reggie Jean and Travis Hutchinson — heading to the state meet is it shouldn’t be a surprise. They all know one another well, and it’s not the first time they’ve worked as a team.
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
The five heading to states were crucial components of the Lions’ football team — which is coming off the most successful season in program history.
Branch, Thomas, Byrd and Jean were the team’s front four on defense — while Hutchinson plays on both sides of the ball at running back and defensive back — so working together and feeding off each other’s energy is something this group has done for years. Before the start of football season, they would take “bets” on who would finish for the most sacks — that same competition pushed one another to get better, Thomas said.
“I didn’t think my bench was going to get this high,” Thomas said. “It was my teammates — their weight goes up each and every week, so I was like, ‘My weight isn’t moving — all right, let me start working harder.’ So I started working harder, and my weight started going up, so I started seeing improvement, and then (I) just kept maintaining that.”
This drive occurred at regionals, when Byrd was up for a lift.
“Reggie Jean, my teammate — he inspired me,” Byrd said. “I looked at him before I went — and we made eye contact — and there was a mutual understanding that if I couldn’t get it up, that he wasn’t going to be able to help me, so it was like, do or die.”
Byrd hit his lift in a successful regional and finished second in the unlimited weight class — hitting a total of 670 pounds. Meanwhile, Jean finished fifth in the unlimited class with a 545-pound total, while Branch (fourth in 238; 500-pound total), Thomas (fifth in 219; 515-pound total) and Hutchinson (fourth in 169; 485-pound total) all finished in the top five.
Although there were challenges early — specifically figuring out how to do meets virtually — seeing his guys not only achieve goals but also bond and push one another has been one of the highlights of the season, Walker said.
“Basically what it is, is each guy pushes each other,” Walker said. “One thing that I’ve been able to watch — because I’ve had them since they were in middle school, as far as being a coach of theirs — is them grow together, and a good thing about this group is they do a good job of pushing each other.”
And if you ask Jean about what his favorite thing about this season has been, he will tell you it’s just getting to be with his guys.
“We all have a pretty good bond together — it’s just fun to be around everyone, and we all just push each other,” Jean said.
On the long bus ride up to the Panhandle the day before the meet — Thursday, April 22 — it’s all about taking the time to prepare and bond with the guys before things get crazy at states. However, for Branch, getting ready is a multi-day process, he said.
“I prepare days before — so like three days before,” Branch said. “I just tell myself, ‘Whatever happens, just go out there and be the best you can be. If you don’t get the weight, then that’s OK, because you’re being the best that you can be.’”
Even though the state meet is technically just another day of competition, there is an added weight to it because it’s the last round of the season. For a senior such as Hutchinson, it’s a chance to go out with a bang — even though he said he and the team won’t deal with it any differently than they would for a regular-season meet.
“We usually just focus on what we need, because we have to make our weights,” Hutchinson said. “We kind of just treat it like any other day — not to get too nervous.”
At the state meet Friday, April 23, Byrd finished in sixth place in the unlimited weight class with 640 total pounds, while Hutchinson finished in seventh in the 169-pound division with a total of 505 pounds.
With the season now complete, Walker — along with help from David Orlando, Christie Thompson, Gabe Walker and Jordan Richards — look back on a season of firsts, but the biggest takeaway are the relationships built through the year.
“It’s like family around here at Foundation Academy — especially on the weightlifting team,” Walker said. “Everybody wants to see each other improve — I think, if I had to put my finger on one thing, that’s what stood out the most, the camaraderie.”