Warrior pride: Three football players describe the four-year ride

December 17, 2015

From a winless freshman year to hosting a playoff game in 2015, the journey of a senior football player stands as a wild one and varies greatly for each athlete.

Defensive lineman Keano Aitken changed positions multiple times en route to becoming an all-region talent. Aitken started playing in the spring of his seventh grade year, trying out at running back, then center, and finally taking his talents to the other side of the ball at safety.

“The one thing I always liked about defense was the fact that you could hit people as hard as you wanted,” Aitken said.

After playing in the defensive backfield throughout middle school, Aitken inched closer to the line of scrimmage during his freshman year, moving to linebacker. But, toward the end of sophomore year, Coach Shane Queen offered him a spot at the varsity level on the defensive line.

With the D-line thinning out because of injuries, Aitken stepped in and made an impact, starting in the final regular season game and two playoff games of his sophomore year. Aitken played every game since and earned all-region honors his junior and senior seasons.

Though the transition from linebacker down to the trenches tested him, Aitken transitioned seamlessly. When asked which position he preferred, he noted he will likely play linebacker in college because of his size, but said the two positions share many similarities.

“If I had to pick between linebacker and defensive end, it’s actually a tie for me because the positions are alike in many different ways,” Aitken said.

Aitken still remembers the game against North Gwinnett his junior year, as NC won in comeback fashion.

“It’s my favorite moment because I felt like we really played as a team and we played our hearts out to make a comeback on a nationally ranked team,” he said.

Warrior football does not limit its impact to on the field, as senior Zach Dudley exhibits.

“When I came to my first Summer workout, I weighed 315 and was all fat,” Dudley said. “Through these past four years I’ve taken that weight and turned it into muscle.”

Dudley credits the sport and program with changing his life by transforming his body and raising his self-esteem.

“Being introduced to this sport my freshman year was the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” he said. “Not only did I fall in love with the game, I fell in love with the grind too. And that changed me for the better.”

Dudley played multiple positions on both sides of the ball including nose tackle and all five positions on the offensive line, earning the title of strongest man on campus.

“We’re gonna miss him,” Queen said. “It’s hard to replace a guy like that, who can play any position you ask him to.”

Dudley’s favorite football memory came against Harrison during his junior year, when he made a key block to spring CJ Cole loose for a long touchdown run.

“I had never felt such happiness until that play, I felt a sense of accomplishment, I was just hype for my team and my brothers.”

Dudley acknowledges that football taught him to work hard and never give up, as the diversity and transformation he experienced prove life-long lessons.

“When everything is going bad and you feel like you’re about to give up you just have to keep your faith,” he said.

A look at the football win totals over the four years Reid, Dudley, and Aitken played.
Andrew Lubbers
A look at the football win totals over the four years Reid, Dudley, and Aitken played.

While Aitken and Dudley’s high school football treks ended after a loss to Valdosta in the opening of the playoffs, senior linebacker Cale Reid’s season came to an abrupt stop against Hillgrove, where he tore his ACL.

Reid led the team in tackles his junior year, and played well through the first five games of his senior campaign before the injury, devastating him.

“Football meant everything to me,” Reid said. “I worked hard day in and day out to make sure my team succeeded. But in the game against Hillgrove after I got injured, I sat on the bench and I cried as I thought this could really be my last high school game. A few weeks later, I found that my fears came true and football was over for me.”

Reid’s finest moment came when he intercepted North Paulding quarterback Kyle Banks during his junior year.

“It was an adrenaline rush,” Reid said. “It was so satisfying because I was not known for having good hands, but I ended up being the only linebacker with an interception.”

Though Reid’s injury cut his journey short, fellow senior Gilbert Blow honored him by wearing his jersey on senior night, a gesture which holds a special place in Reid’s heart.

“It meant the world to me,” he said. “Gilbert’s like a brother to me and when he saw it how bad it was hurting me not being able to play, he asked to wear my number and I’ll never forget it.”

From position changes to life lessons learned through adversity, the memories and transformations a NC football player experiences hold value and timelessness.

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