If there’s ever been a time Cullman needed an additional dose of motivation, it’ll be this Friday when the Bearcats go toe-to-toe with Muscle Shoals, Class 5A’s top-ranked team.
Motivation, however, hasn’t exactly been in short supply for the Black and Gold this season.
From the start of spring practice on, Cullman’s entire roster and coaching staff have dedicated every moment of the 2012 campaign to Andrew Winfrey, a teammate and friend who has not been able to join them on the field this year after suffering severe injuries from a car accident in late February.
“Every day during practice, our breakdown is, ‘For Andrew,’” offensive lineman Jordan Van Gundy said. “Everything we do is for him. We’re just trying to play for him and keep him in our thoughts.”
In addition to the specialized breakdown, the Bearcats have proudly displayed a No. 4 decal on their helmets this season. They also lift four fingers in unison at the end of each third quarter, not only signifying the beginning of the fourth quarter but serving as a tribute to Winfrey’s jersey number.
“The fourth quarter is for Andrew,” quarterback Zac Crocker said. “We give all four quarters, no matter what, for Andrew.”
Replacing Winfrey’s natural instinct and ability to lead on defense has not been easy for Cullman. Winfrey, an All-State First Team safety as a sophomore in 2011, reached the end zone on a 90-yard scoop-and-score to account for the Black and Gold’s only touchdown in last year’s 35-7 second-round loss to the Tigers.
Without Winfrey’s services available, coach Mark Britton and defensive coordinator Matt Hopper turned to Trey Moon to fill the position. The junior admitted he was initially intimidated by the large shoes he was expected to fill but said he’s since settled into his role.
“I didn’t think I was going to get to play much this year. Then the accident happened, and I realized I was going to have to take his spot,” Moon said. “It was pretty tough at first. It’s kind of hard to replace him because he was the leading tackler on the team, and he was such a team leader.”
Despite Winfrey’s absence, Cullman has yet to see a dropoff at the safety position this season, and Moon has been the primary player to thank for that. He’s snagged three interceptions in eight games — the latest came last Friday against Athens — and proven himself as a go-to guy on a Bearcat squad full of talented athletes.
Moon is also coming into his own as a voice on the team, although he said it’s hard to stack up to Winfrey in that regard.
“I’d like to say I have, but it’s just one of those things you can’t really replace the leadership Andrew had,” Moon said. “I try my best, and if I do everything the best I could, the rest of it should fill in.”
Winfrey, whose recovery is continuing at a remarkable pace, recently returned to Cullman from his second stint at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. He’s been in the crowd for the Bearcats’ games against Hartselle, Lawrence County and Athens, even standing up and returning his teammates’ four-finger salute in the late stages of their battle versus the arch-rival Tigers.
Moon said he tries to talk to Winfrey before every game and draws inspiration from his friend.
“That’s all I think about before a game,” he said. “It gets me more focused than anything I can do. If I see him, I tell him I’m dedicating each game to him.”
A lot of people would think Van Gundy will have it rough on Friday night, considering he’ll be squaring off with Auburn commit and five-star defensive lineman Dee Liner. The Cullman senior looks at the situation through a different perspective, though.
“Everytime you’re thinking, ‘I can’t do this,’ or, ‘This is hard,’ just think, ‘Hey, what does that guy (Winfrey) have to do?” Van Gundy said. “His challenges are way more than ours. He’s got to learn to walk again. That’s way harder than anything we could do.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.