It’s 2,790 miles from the back practice field at Shasta High School to Davidson College in North Carolina. For Wolves running back James Weaver, it’s a trip he’s been working toward most of his life.
From youth football practice on that muddy swath of land to high school games at Thompson Field, Weaver has been working to get to the next step – games at the Wildcats’ Richardson Stadium.
On Wednesday, among masked-up family, friends and coaches, Weaver signed his National Letter of Intent to play Division I football for FCS Davidson.
“It seems like kind of a dream,” he said, “but it’s nice to know all the hard work has paid off.”
The work began as a man-child of sorts on a Shasta Jr. Wolves Pee Wee football team in 2014 and has continued through the past seven years.
I was a coach on that 2014 Pee Wee. It was Weaver’s first year playing football.
He stood out. He was bigger than most of his peers with a quickness and instinct that can’t be taught. At times he carried the load. Other times, he was showed his rawness.
His dad, Brent, likes to joke about how James would cry during practice … sometimes because the toll of conditioning was harsh; sometimes for no real reason.
Yet, through it all, Weaver worked hard. Every. Single. Day. It’s a work ethic that’s never wavered.
That Pee Wee team went undefeated, won championships and trophies. He scored the winning touchdown in a hard-fought game that saw him bottled up most of the day.
“I remember at halftime we’re down one touchdown,” Weaver said to me on Wednesday. “I remember being frustrated and remember you came up to me and gave me a big hug and told me it was going to be OK.”
After that season, I went to coach for the high school at the freshman level. Weaver continued his arc toward the Wolves’ program, winning along the way for the feeder program.
Weaver would bypass me as a freshman, jumping to the junior varsity team and a playoff call-up during the magical 2017 Shasta state title run.
I was happy to have one final season with Weaver last year as member of the varsity staff. I saw the same hard-working kid … minus the conditioning tears.
“I feel growing up people expected a lot of things from me,” Weaver said.
Weaver burst on to the 7-3 JV team and ran for nearly 900 yards during the regular season. He added 52 yards in the varsity postseason, including 40 yards in the state title game against Bishop Diego. Weaver was called into action after bell cow Seth Park was injured on his last carry against Marin Catholic.
He ran for 1,618 yards as a sophomore and junior in two varsity, including 871 yards and 10 TDs in 10 games as Shasta went 5-6 in 2019.
Through it all, Weaver was determined, humble yet still goofy in a non-disruptive way.
“James is a great football player and great human being and I think the best years for James are yet to come,” said Wolves head coach JC Hunsaker at the signing ceremony. “All of those things that make you want to coach football, James is an exemplary model of those.”
Weaver said his family, parents Brent and Leanne, and siblings, Elle, Parks and Liv, keep him grounded.
“I feel like I’ve been blessed into a good family and while some might see me as privileged and not expect me to have to work, I really use that as motivation,” Weaver said. “Yeah, I do work hard. Despite all the athletic gifts I’ve been given, I always make it a point that I’m going to be the hardest worker on the field, in the classroom or in anything I do.”
It helps to have motivation from Leanne, who played soccer at BYU and whose parents also were D-I athletes at the University of Utah. Brent’s dad, Rick, played football at Chico State.
“My mom being a Division I soccer player, she told me the importance of working on my draft, but she also said it’s equally as important to keep the academic aspect up, too,” Weaver said. “Having the right GPA opens a lot more doors.”
And while COVID might’ve wiped away his senior season, Weaver said he never stopped grinding despite being “devastated” at the thought of not getting the chance to keep the River Bowl on the West Side as a senior.
“Knowing that I get to continue my football career is exciting, but this year has taught me not to take anything for granted,” he said.
Weaver said the small town feel of Davidson was one of the selling points in his choice, but the proximity of Charlotte also was a plus.
A visit a few weeks ago sold Weaver.
“I’d never really heard of Davidson until they started to reach out to me last year,” he said. “And from the moment they hit me up on Twitter, it’s been great.”
A formal visit wasn’t allowed due to COVID, but Weaver said he watched a spring practice and enjoyed the atmosphere.
“They made a point to make me feel at home,” he said.
“I never really doubted myself but I was really realistic,” Weaver said. “I wasn’t sure if I could play at the next level. But it was guys like you (me), coach Hunsaker and my dad, all the other coaches and all my teammates who supported me and believed in me really helped me achieve this dream.”