E.A. Sports Today

Called to serve

Three of Weaver’s senior wrestlers are headed to Marine Corps boot camp together after their season’s over

Weaver senior wrestlers (from left) Brannon Bellar, Chase Rodgers, Collin Allison and Tyler Johnson await the final home match of their careers. On the cover future Marines Bellar, Rodgers and Allison are flanked by their Marine recruiters. (Photos by Christy Souder)

Weaver senior wrestlers (from left) Brannon Bellar, Chase Rodgers, Collin Allison and Tyler Johnson await the final home match of their careers. On the cover future Marines Bellar, Rodgers and Allison are flanked by their Marine recruiters. (Photos by Christy Souder)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

WEAVER — Three longtime Weaver wrestling friends will take the mat at home for the final time in their careers tonight, but it’s not the end of the journey or their friendship by any means.

Brannon Bellar, Collin Allison and Chase Rodgers will be among four wrestlers recognized in Senior Night ceremonies before the Bearcats’ 50th dual match of the season against Ashville. The night may close one of the more innocent chapters of their journey together, but a new real-life one is about to begin.

When the Bearcats roll up the mats for the final time this season – hopefully, for them, with a couple of state championships in hand – and most of their friends are headed to the beach or other teenage diversions, these three are off to the U.S. Marine Corps. They ship out for basic training in South Carolina in June and then it’s off to who-knows-where to serve their country.

Bellar and Rodgers are going to active duty right away, Bellar in field artillery and Rodgers in diesel mechanics. Allison is going into the reserves to get his four-year degree before becoming a field artillery officer.

“I think it’s cool,” Weaver wrestling coach Andy Fulmer said. “They go from being brothers on the mat to brothers in arms. It goes from the high school to we’re brothers for life now because we’re part of the same military branch. They’re three great kids who are going to do a really great job serving the country.

“They don’t want to wrestle, but they still want to be part of something special, part of a brotherhood where they can make an impact and contribute for the positive of the people in our community.”

Actually, there was no wrestling with the decision to join the military for these guys. It was the challenges of their sport that led them to choose the Corps. Bellar and Allison enlisted the same day and Rodgers followed a few days later.

And it’s not like one did it and the others followed. Allison said the other two were so committed they would’ve gone even if one of the others didn’t.

“Wrestling is a tough sport to begin with and the Marines really bank all their recruiting off being the toughest,” Allison said. “So, I guess, wrestling being tough and the Marines having this really long tradition of being the toughest really appealed to us. I can’t imagine anything else. I’m not going to like all of it 100 percent, but I’m still going to feel accomplished at the end of the day.”

“It’s like here at Weaver,” Rodgers said. “Wrestling is the hardest sport. Only the strong can do it and that’s the Marine Corps – the few, the proud.”

Both of Allison’s granddads were in the military, one Air Force, one Army stationed at Fort McClellan. Rodgers had a grandfather in the Army. Bellar will be a first-generation Marine; he said he was really influenced by the talks he had with his great grandmother who sewed uniforms for the personnel at Parris Island.

“I’ve wanted to be a Marine since I was 12 years old, and I think it’s pretty awesome that it’s kind of worked out that two of my buddies wanted to be a Marine, too,” Bellar said. “When I’d gp up there I’d see everything and everybody in their uniform and I’d ask my grandmother about it.

“She said it was amazing these men are going out there protecting our country, protecting our freedom. I saw them as like heroes in my eyes and I wanted to be just like that. I wanted to help out in any way I could.”

Before they get into all that, they have to wrap up a strong wrestling season.

On the mat they’ve been consistent and successful and brought a distinct personality to the team’s profile. Allison and Rodgers are among the four anchors at the back of the lineup; both are 50-match winners this season. Bellar, in his first season as a regular in the lineup, and Tyler Johnson, the other senior to be recognized, have won 25 times.

“They’ve been really consistent,” Fulmer said. “The last couple years they’ve been a presence in our lineup. Last year they started being real dominant and the year before they showed signs they could be dominant. All those guys are great kids, but the thing I’m going to miss about those four is their personalities.

“They’re magnetic, fun to be around. When one is not at practice or sick or something it kind of changes the dynamic of practice; it’s not as lively or energetic. Those guys have a good time, they work hard, they have fun and brotherhood.”

It’s that brotherhood that has kept them inseparable in the wrestling room and now beyond.

“The Marines are the smallest conventional fighting force,” Allison said. “It’s a brotherhood. Wrestling is a brotherhood. I guess I was really looking for that. We’re really together. We sweat together and bleed together. You can’t break a brotherhood like wrestling.”

Weaver won Senior Night match 66-12. All three future Marines pinned their opponent. Johnson won by forfeit, but wrestled an exhibition and won by pin.

Cody Souder (106), Dylan DeLoach (113), Taylor Ward (126), Drake Monroe (132) and Kyle Clapper (145) all scored pins. Caleb Russell (220) and Caleb Allison (185) won by forfeit.

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