When North Hall quarterback Drew Atha missed the first three games of this season, he asked coach David Bishop if he could dress out while watching the games from the sideline.
The coach, and the team’s trainer, wouldn’t have any of it.
“I know him,” Bishop said. “He’d probably try to sneak his way into the game.”
That competitive streak is a part of what drives Atha. It’s what made him begin summer workouts with the football team after suffering an Achilles injury during baseball, playing through pain but not telling anybody. When he went to the doctor, Atha ended up having to wear a boot for three months.
That desire to be on the field, to make a difference in a major way was on clear display last Friday night, as Atha led the Trojans to a 38-35 win against Monroe Area at The Brickyard. Atha rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 44 yards and another touchdown in North Hall’s first victory of the season.
It was the kind of performance the program needed and one Atha knew wasn’t possible just weeks before.
“That killed me watching,” said Atha of the early-season contests he was forced to watch while recovering. “It was hard for me to go out there on Friday nights knowing I couldn’t play. But you’ve got to be there for your team and support as much as you can.”
The missed time with injury was the latest setback after missing half of the 2014 baseball season because of hip surgery. Atha has tried to avoid getting down about the injuries.
“It’s all happened for a reason,” Atha said. “But you’ve just got to make the best out of what you have. There’s no point in being down about it. You’ve got to give it your best.”
That approach has impressed Bishop, who said Atha has handled the tough breaks the right way.
“I’ve been very pleased with Drew’s fortitude,” Bishop said. “It’s easy to get discouraged, and he was trying to find any way possible to help out.
“When we’re on offense, he’s right there in the huddle paying attention to what’s going on. If there’s an issue with what we’re doing in our system, he’s usually trying to help that younger guy or younger guys to make the right calls and make the right decisions in there.”
Atha said he used the time he missed to learn how to be a leader, to be there for the other quarterbacks and help them as much as he could.
For the 5-foot-11, 170-pound North Hall junior, who has played both baseball and football since he was about 5 years old, being one of the smaller guys on the field has been a regular occurrence.
“You’ve got to fight when you’re smaller,” Atha said.
Sophomore Maddox Turner began the year at quarterback while Atha was working back to health, and sophomore Jackson Madonna played some under center when injuries forced Turner back to running back. Bishop began methodically increasing Atha’s workload when he returned for the Stephens County game on Sept. 26.
Atha played the whole game last Friday and put up his strong numbers, while still not being at full strength. Perhaps just as impressively, the junior kept the team focused after falling behind 14-0 in the game’s first three minutes.
“Our kids could have chosen at that time to quit,” Bishop said. “And instead they fought.”
One of the most essential ingredients in a comeback like Atha and the Trojans had last Friday is having someone who can step up and show the way.
“The kids don’t question him,” Bishop said. “He’s out there and they understand he is the leader. That’s been good to see.”
Atha also plays safety, but his hits aren’t limited to one side of the ball.
“I enjoy hitting people,” Atha said. “But when you run your fakes (on offense), you get to hit people, too.”
North Hall plays at Chestatee this Friday in a matchup of 1-7 teams. Neither team is in contention for the playoffs, and Bishop knows it would be easy for his guys to downplay the importance of this year’s final two games. But he has stressed to his seniors how they can help the team’s younger players have a solid foundation for the future by finishing strong. Much like the Monroe Area game last week, Bishop said the game with the War Eagles is a “fight or flight” moment.
“That’s what we’ve always been about, finishing strong and discipline no matter what,” Bishop said.