This story is the first part of a two-part series on the life of Kentucky Warrior wide receiver Michael Weber. Part two will run in Thursday’s edition of the Daily Times.
Michael Weber has scored plenty of touchdowns, but this is the first time he has no idea what to do. Ripping off his helmet, he first runs towards the sidelines then directly to the Warrior bench. As his feet touch the weathered track of Portsmouth’s Spartan Municipal Stadium, his eye catches a middle aged man bounding down the stairs. In his excitement to reach the field, the man jumps over the wall as opposed to taking the stairs a section over. It’s for the best, he’s just spent six hours in the car and is eager to stretch his legs.
“Already? Already?” the man says as he embraces the Warriors’ leading receiver. Weber can’t choke down his tears long enough to respond.
“You did it!” the man says. “I love you, son.”
Growing up in Huntington West Virginia, Michael Weber was the only one in his family who didn’t know his father. As a baby, Michael’s mother, Lora, thought that he had the same father as her other son, Kenneth Collins. But as Michael grew older, Lora began to notice some differences between the brothers. Where his brother’s skin was much lighter, Michael’s stayed dark. She also began to notice differences in facial structure.
“When Michael stayed dark I said, ‘Nope. He’s got to be Bobby’s,’” she said. “But, I had no idea how to find the man.”
Lora and Bobby Jewitt were high school sweethearts at Huntington High School. The two ran into each other in Huntington in late 1982 and briefly reignited their relationship before Bobby left for college at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown. In a world before social media, Lora had no way to contact Bobby without a phone number or address.
But that didn’t mean Michael didn’t have father figures. When he was two years old, his mother would marry his stepfather, Richard Cox. The couple would have two children together, making Michael one of four half-siblings. Though Weber grew up in a large family, he often felt lonely without a father of his own.
“I was kind of just the odd man out,” Weber said. “There were four kids growing up in the house, and I’m watching my step Dad’s kids…that got in my mind, like he loved them more. I would come to find out that that wasn’t the case, but as a kid, you couldn’t help but be jealous.”
Michael’s identity struggles along with Cox’s battle with alcoholism made for a rocky step-father, step-son relationship. Though Cox’s transgressions cut him to the core, they taught Michael an important lesson.
“He did teach me to be a man, but he did a lot of that by showing me what not to do,” Weber said.
But despite their differences, there was always one thing the two could bond over: Football.
When Richard wasn’t drinking, he would sit Michael down and tell him about his favorite sport, everything from the rules of the game to classic stories of Hall of Famers. Soon enough, Michael was imagining himself decked out in silver and black, lining up at receiver for the Los Angeles Raiders next to his all-time favorite player, Tim Brown. When he finally got the chance to go out for peewee ball when he turned 11 years old, his coaches began to notice many of Brown’s traits in Weber’s game, namely quickness, elusiveness and soft hands.
Though Michael was excelling on the football field, his home life had never been worse. Cox was drinking more than ever. Lora, trying to provide a living for her husband and four children, spent most of her time working, away from her young children. With little to no parental supervision, the temptations to get caught up in the wrong crowd were greater than they had ever been. But, forever trying to impress the father that he never had, Weber kept on the straight and narrow path.
“I lived my life by the book. I got in trouble, of course, but I was a straight-A student,” Weber said. “I always had this pressure to be this good kid when my Dad came back; and I didn’t even know who my Dad was.”
As life in his childhood home continued to deteriorate, Weber was offered a lifeline from his friend, Denny McFeeley. His father, Dennis, opened his home and offered Michael place to stay. He couldn’t say no.
“I told my Mom ‘I gotta go.’ She knew that and trusted me,” he said. “I’ve been the poster child for ‘It takes a village.’ And it really has. It has taken an entire village to get me here.”
Though it was difficult to let her son go, Lora knew that the McFeeley’s offered Michael a lot more than she could ever provide.
“I just wanted better for him, because basically he was my only one that was in school and wanted to be someone,” she said. “It was a help to me when he went to stay with them.”
Even though he was no longer living in her house, Michael continued to stay close with his mother. He stopped by and visited whenever he could. She got him his first job at the Rally’s she managed when he turned 15. And though Lora was often busy at work and couldn’t attend Michael’s football games, he imagined her in the stands and used her support as motivation
“Everything I am, the man I grew up to be, is all because of my Mom and the things she spoke to me as a kid. I took them to heart,” Weber said.
Not only did the McFeeley’s provide a stable home environment during the young man’s formative years, but Dennis acted as yet another father figure to Michael, one that he could actually emulate.
“He’s by far the greatest man I’ve ever met thus far in my life. I mean that,” Weber said. “He showed me how to be man, what you should do, how you should treat people.”
Through all of the troubles and turmoils of his teenage years, the football field was always the one place Michael could go to get away from it all. Playing his dream position of wide receiver at Huntington High School, Weber played under legendary head coach Bob Sang. While most of his playing time came during a disastrous 1-9 season his junior year, he relished every opportunity to step on the field and compete.
During that junior season, his mother was finally able to make it to one of his games. With the Highlanders threatening to score in the red zone on Homecoming night, Michael saw Lora arriving late into the stadium. Excited to see her, but careful not to jump offside, Michael slyly gave his mother a quick wave.
Suddenly, the ball was snapped. Mimicking his boyhood idol Tim Brown, Weber broke off the line and used his lightning-quick speed to blow right by his defender. As fate would have it, the ball came right to him in the corner of the end zone.
At the time, Michael Weber thought that would be the last time one of his parents would watch him score a touchdown. He was wrong.
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter