By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- The emotional injuries from last Saturday's loss to Dinwiddie in the 4A football state championship game may have subsided somewhat, but the physical wounds from that game still remained for Sherando linebacker George Aston on Wednesday afternoon.
The stitches that held shut a gash on the left side of Aston's jaw and the sling that supported his right arm still served as sort of a grim reminder of the 56-14 beating the Warriors took in their quest for the program's first state championship.
Sitting behind a desk in a classroom at Sherando High School, Aston reflected on the season the Warriors had, noticeably proud of everything Sherando accomplished on the football field this season. The senior spoke of his teammates and of the importance of camaraderie. He lauded Sherando's coaching staff, saying that the Warriors have the "best coaches in the state."
But what about the individual work in the weight room Aston put in to become one of the greatest, most physical defensive players Sherando head coach Bill Hall has ever coached?
"That's my life. If it wasn't for this," Aston said, pointing to the right shoulder he separated in the fourth quarter last Saturday, "I would go lift right now."
There probably isn't a statement that better epitomizes Aston's last four years at Sherando.
Since joining Sherando's varsity program a few games into his freshman season, Aston has been a permanent fixture in the weight room. Six days a week, all year long, Aston lifted weights, exercised, ran and religiously monitored his nutrition to ensure that he was maximizing his body's full potential.
"He wouldn't take any days off unless you said, 'You need to take Sunday off,'" Hall said.
The physical results were astounding. As a freshman, Aston weighed 165 pounds. By the start of his sophomore season, he was up to 195, and last year Aston bulked up to 225. This season, Aston capped his playing weight at 230 pounds.
Aston said he's close to benching 400 pounds, and Hall added that Aston is nearing a 600-pound squat and a 300-pound clean.
"He's by far the best linebacker that I've ever coached ... and probably the most physically developed kid that I've ever coached," Hall said.
"I think that's a snapshot of our kids, is they're really devoted and committed to the process we go through for athletic development. George, I think, takes that to another level than any regular high school kid."
All of that relentless preparation primed Aston for one of the greatest individual defensive performances in Sherando history.
Aston, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2013 Football Defensive Player of the Year, finished the season with an area-best 191 tackles (62 solo) in 15 games, an average of 12.7 tackles per game. He also had 13 tackles for loss, two sacks and led the Warriors with three interceptions.
He earned the title of Northwestern District Defensive Player of the Year, and was also handed the honor of Conference 21 Defensive Most Valuable Player. The all-region and all-state teams have yet to be announced.
Aston was the undisputed leader of a Sherando defense that held opponents to 14.9 points and 216.4 yards per game, but he said he never would have accomplished his individual goals without the help of his teammates.
"A lot of my success came from a great defensive line this year, great defensive ends. They were always just doing their jobs all the time and they were able to force a lot of guys back into the middle where I would just meet them," Aston said. "A lot of my success was based off of other people."
A lot of it had to do with Aston's work ethic and preparation, as well.
In addition to the physical work, Aston studied hard in the film room, and he eventually found himself able to predict where the football was going, sometimes even before the opposing offense did.
"I remember sophomore year getting my keys and slowly getting to the point where the running back was going to be. This year, as soon as the ball was snapped the line would take one step and I was actually beating the running backs to the hole they were trying to hit. So I was filling the hole before they were even there," Aston said. "I could really tell my instincts have grown so much, just being around football and watching a lot of the film with coaches."
Aston's work ethic on and off the football field didn't benefit just him -- it affected all of the Warriors.
Sherando senior quarterback Reid Entsminger said the frequency of Aston's workouts encouraged him to join Aston in the gym every day following their sophomore season, and Hall said each Warrior felt compelled to keep up with Aston in order to physically compete with him on the practice field.
"You had to compete in the weight room or in practice, or George would hurt you," Hall said. "That's not a knock on them or a knock on George. That was the type of competition that you needed to bring out the best in everybody. George had to play at that level to reach his potential, and those guys had to compete with him at that level so that they didn't get hurt. As a result, they'd reach their potential."
The product was a complete defensive unit that stymied opposing offenses all season long and became the linchpin of Sherando's run to its fourth state championship game appearance in the school's 21-year history.
The Warriors' defense reached its peak in the 4A North Region championship game against Salem, as Sherando picked up its first shutout of the season in a 7-0 victory. The Warriors held Salem -- which averaged more than 300 yards rushing this season -- to just 94 yards on the ground in the win.
Naturally, Aston led the way for the Warriors, tallying 18 tackles and an interception.
"He brought that competitive attitude each day in practice and in games," Entsminger said. "That's just him. He's a competitive guy and he works hard. He's a hard-nosed football player, and everyone feeds off that."
Sherando couldn't replicate that same result in the state championship game against Dinwiddie, but the Warriors competed until the end. Even the separated shoulder couldn't stop Aston, who continued to play after feeling a pop in his shoulder early in the fourth quarter.
Aston -- who also served as a bruising running back and finished with 898 rushing yards and a team-high 24 touchdowns this season -- led the Warriors with 136 yards rushing, a touchdown, and 13 tackles against Dinwiddie.
"He's a gladiator. He would've just kept fighting forever," Hall said. "You'd have to kill him or else he's going to keep fighting."
Aston, who said he is receiving interest from multiple schools, isn't ready to discuss his plans beyond high school.
Hall said Aston is without a doubt a scholarship-worthy athlete, but whatever the future brings, Aston can take pride in what he has become over the last four seasons at Sherando.
"I don't know what's going to happen with him with college. I think there's going to multiple opportunities with that, but whatever they are, he can look and know that he did everything he could to maximize his potential," Hall said. "And I think as a result it influenced him positively in every other phase of his life. You can't have that laser-like focus on football and it not positively affect you in every other phase of your life."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD