By Chris Doherty
Special to the Bulletin
Coaches always talk about not only the quality of a player’s skills on the field, but the quality of their character.
In high school football, everybody wants to win games, but it’s what players do off of the field that will make the larger difference in the real world. It’s those types of players who lead teams in the locker room, in the classroom, and in the community. They’re the ones coaches lean on in the offseason and in the weight room to be role models for the younger generation.
Every team has those types of players. At Patrick County, the best examples are the combination of seniors Bryson Fulcher and Jess Edwards. As juniors, the linebacker duo combined for over 200 tackles, and Fulcher’s nearly 115 tackles earned him First Team All-Region 3D honors.
The two have played alongside one another for a couple of years now, and their friendship off the field has fueled a dominant tandem on it.
“He’s my boy,” Fulcher said of Edwards. “We’ve been best friends for a long time. He’s always a good person to have next to me, always picking me up when I don’t have a good play. He’s always there for me. Boy is a big hitter. I’m just blessed to play right beside him.”
“Being with Bryson, I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Edwards said. “We know how to talk, how to communicate. I trust him ... He’s a big hitter. He just knows what to do.”
The Cougars are moving down the VHSL Class 2 this season, and it comes in a season in which players and coaches alike all have higher expectations for the team than there has been in many years in Stuart. The Cougars have not played in the playoffs since 2012, and this group hopes to be able to change that this season.
“That would just be amazing,” Fulcher said.
“I’m pumped,” Edwards said. “We should go a long way with this group.”
As impactful as the tandem is between the lines, it’s the work Fulcher and Edwards put in their communities that they take the most pride in. Fulcher said he began going on mission trips with his church a few years ago. On these trips the past couple of summers, he has gone into struggling communities in Tennessee to help rebuild people’s land.
One of the things Fulcher did this summer was help rebuild a deck for a man who was in a wheelchair.
“I just love helping people out ... It’s just crazy the feeling you get when you help those people out,” Fulcher said. “After you do it, seeing his reaction to that, it’s just magical.”
For Edwards, he enjoys helping in similar ways closer to home. He’ll donate his time to help people in his community when they need it.
“I love helping people. I’ll go work for people, no pay, just get good work in for people who need it because if I were in that position I would hope someone would come do it for me,” Edwards said. “When you lay down at nigh ... it feels like you’ve done the right thing.”
Football helps teach life lessons and coaches hope to try to get that through to their players. Going out and doing community service has more benefits than the help itself to others.
“I’ve learned things from helping and it’s life lessons. They teach me things that no one else can,” Edwards said. “Everybody is not a bad person ... A little help can change someone’s day.”
Doing the community service isn’t something that either Cougar does as some sort of requirement, but something they choose to do out of the love for helping others. Neither plans on stopping that part of their life any time soon.
“I’ve always loved helping people, and ever since I’ve been going on mission trips the last few years with my new church it’s just been fun and I’ve always thought about doing some sort of therapy or something helping people out when I get older as a career,” Fulcher said.
Patrick County’s football program has been working towards changing the culture in recent years, and this year the team senses they have the ability to do just that. Fulcher and Edwards have seen the progress over the past few seasons, but this is the year they believe it shows up in the win column, and they’re making sure they’re leading the way.
“We’ve got guys that are committed,” Edwards said. “They just have to take it like the next rep is their last. Don’t take nothing for granted.”
“I just push them hard every day at practice and tell them how good we can be,” Fulcher said.
And it goes further than just on the practice field. Both players spend a lot of time watching film to be ready to make the plays necessary on Friday nights.
“Every week before we play the game I like to watch a little film,” Fulcher said. “I’m always seeing how fast the running backs are and seeing how fast I need to flow to the ball, and if they have a slower, a more strong running back… just always watching film and doing stuff at practice, doing the drills right.”
“If we’ve already played a team I’ll go back and watch the film of what I didn’t do, what I did do and what I need to improve on and then I just do a lot of film study,” Edwards said.
It’s their senior year. They’ve been best friends off the field, and they’ve grown into one of the dominant linebacker duos in the Piedmont District. But now Edwards and Fulcher want to be able to finish off their careers in Stuart with a winning taste in their mouths.
“[I just want to] see the team succeed and keep improving,” Edwards said. “And hopefully change this program around.”
“I want a winning season,” Fulcher said, and then chuckled, “a district championship sounds good.”
The stats have been piling up without the benefit on wins to go with them for the senior duo. The Cougars hope to change that this season, and Fulcher and Edwards hope to be right in the middle of it all.