By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Josh Gum knows this could be the best season yet for Central. And like everyone he wants to make the most of his senior season, but he knows every time he steps out on the field on Friday nights something will be missing.
"It won't be the same without my No. 1 fan," Gum said.
Gum's "No. 1 fan" was his grandfather, Donald Warner, who died last November after a long battle with cancer.
"He was a very big impact on me. He was my rock," Gum said. "When he was so bad with cancer he could barely walk, but he drove all the way down to Windsor [for a playoff game in 2011]."
Last season the Falcons dedicated a win against Stonewall Jackson to Gum's grandfather. Gum and his teammates presented his grandfather with the game ball after the game.
Gum said it meant a lot to both him and his grandfather.
"It brought me to tears once I got off the field," Gum said. "We were trying to get in the huddle and I could see him over there, but he didn't know it was coming. I had all my boys behind me -- it was great. We handed him that ball and he just broke down in tears. It just meant the world to him. The last two weeks, even on his deathbed, he had that football right there in his arms. It meant so much to him. I'm thankful for [Central] coach [Mike] Yew and everybody who made that happen."
"For us, anytime you have an opportunity to do something special for somebody when they deal with a tough thing in their life, it's always a pretty genuine thing to do," Yew said. "It just seemed like the right thing to do."
Gum has been a huge part of Central's success over the last few years. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound offensive and defensive lineman has been a starter on the team since he was a freshman.
Gum has played at both center and tackle, where he will play this season and said he doesn't mind playing anywhere on the line.
While Gum said he knows that offensive linemen don't get a lot of credit, the most important thing is helping the team win.
"It's just a sense of pride," Gum said. "You line up, you know you got to beat the guy in front of you. We all do what's best for the team. We may not get in the papers, but if we get a win that's better than being in any paper, I think."
Gum said it's also a great feeling to be able to make a block that helps lead to a touchdown.
While he said he prefers to play on offense, Gum also enjoys playing on defense as well. He's played at both defensive tackle and end for Central. This season he will playing at defensive tackle.
"[Central defensive coordinator] coach [Rowdy] Hoover makes defense so enjoyable," Gum said. "He's fun to be with, but at the same time he works you hard. He's a yelling coach, he gets in your face, but he gets the point across.
"I'm definitely starting to like defense more."
Gum is also going to share the kicking duties this season with junior Eric Ventura.
Gum is also on the track team and last year finished fifth in the shot put in the Group A state meet. He said doing both track and football help make him better at each sport.
It also helps lifting in the weight room in the offseason, Gum said his current bench press max is 370, and he's hoping to get to 400 by the winter.
The Falcons have been at least co-champions in the Bull Run District for the last two years, and with most of the team returning there's good reason for high expectations.
One of 20 seniors on the team, Yew said he's looking to Gum for leadership.
"I think this year he's going to take more of an upfront leadership role," Yew said. "He's always kind of been a leader, but I think he's always felt a little bit shy about it because he was an underclassman. His teammates voted him as a captain. I think we'll see more of a leadership role this year."
Gum said he tries to be a leader to his teammates, like many of the seniors were to him in years past. Gum said he also tries to help out his younger brother, Tristan, who is a freshman.
Gum said he went to several college camps this past summer, and he's hoping to play at the next level next season.
"It's my dream since I was a little kid," Gum said. "I remember being 8 or 9 years old watching the TV watching the college people, and just thinking one day that could be me. I've pushed my whole childhood, in the weight room, camps all season, just to get to that next level. There is life after football, but I want to get as much of it as I can, because I know once I'm done I'm going to miss it."
No matter how much success the Falcons have this season Gum will still be missing his "No. 1 fan," but he will also have a piece of his grandfather with him.
Gum said he has the football that the team gave to his grandfather and keeps it with him.
"I carry his football with me every game, everywhere I go," Gum said. "It's definitely going to be harder this season.
"I know he's up there looking down on me, and hopefully I can do him proud."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com