BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — At any level of football, it’s not uncommon to see players and coaches raise four fingers at the conclusion of the third quarter.
It signifies the start of the fourth and in many instances serves as a reminder that a strong closure is necessary to win.
Throughout the 2019 season, the Bluefield High School football program has also included their thumb to raise five fingers in unison ahead of the start of the fourth.
It’s one of many ways the Beavers have chosen to honor the late Tony Webster Jr., who tragically lost his life to a ruptured brain aneurysm after lifting weights in January.
Webster Jr., who wore No. 5, was a member of the 2017 Class AA state champion team as well as last year’s runner-up squad at BHS.
His dad, Tony Webster, is in his 23rd season as an assistant coach for the Beavers, and found plenty of satisfaction in last Friday’s 40-24 win at Fairmont Senior in a state semifinal.
“It’s very emotional. This time last year, my son was with us and he was a big part of what we were trying to do,” Webster said.
Bluefield, the No. 4 seed in Class AA, goes for its 12th state championship against No. 2 Bridgeport at 7 p.m. Friday at Wheeling Island Stadium. There will be no shortage of emotion in the matchup of 12-1 teams, particularly from the longtime assistant Webster.
“These kids have really put Tony first. It’s more than football,” he said. “We know how good the wins and losses are, but at Bluefield, we’re a family. We want to win football games and state championships, but when it comes down to it, this is a family.
“These kids came by my house (Thanksgiving) night to check on me and make sure I was OK. The holidays are pretty tough when you lose a loved one. But the kids and community have been unreal for the love of my son.”
Webster Jr., known as “Lil Tony”, would have been a senior this year. He is rarely not on the minds of those involved with the 2019 team.
“What’s happened is our players have the desire to play hard, because they knew the heart he had,” veteran head coach Fred Simon said. “That’s helped us tremendously, where we just play our guts out and give it everything we have.”
For a team whose focus has been winning another state championship since it fell short in last year’s title game to the Polar Bears, Bluefield has found extra motivation from the loss of Webster Jr.
“We’ve been playing all this year for one person and that’s 5,” junior linebacker Shawn Mitchell said. “My grind on the field doesn’t stop, because his grind on the field didn’t stop. I’m going to keep going until the season is over with, because we’re bringing a ring back for him.”
On Bluefield’s official roster, there is no No. 5 listed. Instead, standout tailback J.J. Davis and reliable receiver Jahiem House, listed No. 28 and 10 respectively, have taken turns honoring Webster Jr. by wearing No. 5.
“It seems like whoever is wearing 5, that person shines,” Webster said. “Both of them have been captains and they’ve both shown why.”
The Beavers are unbeaten against state competition this year and have won 10 straight games since their only setback in Week 3 at Lord Botetourt (Va.).
Bridgeport has reeled off nine consecutive wins since its only loss in Week 4 against Fairmont Senior.
The previous two years, the Beavers have ended the Indians’ season in a semifinal at Mitchell Stadium.
On Friday, the stakes will be even higher as two of the state’s premier programs meet for the prized possession in Class AA.
“It’s really emotional, because I’ve been around these kids since they picked up a football,” Webster said. “I’ve been with coach Simon twenty-something years and it’s just unreal to have the honor to go back to Wheeling.”