Land of 10 has embarked on a series of “Next Generation” articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the class of 2017 signees. Michigan State reporter Luke Srodulski has hit the road to visit this year’s incoming class of freshmen and give you an inside look past Hudl highlights and head shots. Here’s the third installment, from a visit with Copley (Akron, Ohio) running back Weston Bridges.
AKRON, Ohio — Weston Bridges has a one-track mind on the football field. The Copley High School running back and Michigan State signee wants to score.
His fraternal twin brother, William, played all over the field and excelled on defense. But Weston, who amassed 3,583 rushing yards and 63 total touchdowns in 29 high school games, found his one true football calling.
“I love touchdowns,” he says. “I love scoring. I like having a rock in my hands. I like moving forward.”
And for all the touchdowns he has scored and intends to score in the future, Bridges uses only one celebration. Once he crosses the goal line and decelerates to a stop, he raises a hand and points to the sky.
It hasn’t changed, and Bridges says it won’t. A deeply religious person, he says it’s his way of giving thanks to God for his on-field successes.
“Every year, my goal is to become stronger with Christ,” he says. “I can’t just worship him off the football field. I have to worship him on the field also.”
Both of Bridges’ parents are Christian pastors. He attends services every Sunday at his father’s Higher Ground Worship Center in Barberton. He plans to find a church in East Lansing once he heads off to school in June.
Bridges has seldom, if ever, wavered in his faith. But there have been times when he has questioned the path on which he has been put. Fighting in his youth, his parents’ separation and the knee injury from which he continues to recover have tested his faith.
Now, he doesn’t question. He feels that if his past has led him to a point where he’s surrounded by people who love and care for him and he’s headed toward a full-ride scholarship to play college football for his dream school, the plan must be working out.
“I got to the point where I don’t even question him no more,” Bridges says. “I got to the point that every situation he puts me in is a test. He’s just testing me to see how strong I am.”
‘The end of the road’
Weston Bridges was riding high.
Copley entered the Ohio Division II playoffs with an 8-2 record, looking for more than its first-round exit of 2015. Bridges had carried the team throughout his senior season, with 1,623 yards and 29 touchdowns going into the Nov. 4 game.
Up 25-15 over 8-2 Hudson entering the fourth quarter, Copley appeared to be in good shape to move on. But halfway through, Bridges took a handoff and was hit while cutting, sending him crumpling to the ground.
Unable to put any weight on his knee, Bridges was helped to the sideline with 6:20 to go. He knew he wouldn’t finish the game. He lay on a training table, craning his neck to see if his teammates could hold on for the win.
“I was trying to pay attention, but I was in pain at the same time,” Bridges said. “I was trying to have my head up, but I couldn’t.”
So when Hudson scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 47-yard pass, he couldn’t get a glimpse — nor did he want to. He just saw a despondent Copley teammate, fellow senior Jacob Williams, with his head down.
That’s how his high school career ended: an eight-win season halted in the opening round of the playoffs, with Bridges hobbling around on crutches afterward.
Typically, Bridges stuffs himself with pizza after a game. Not this time. Like many on the team, he couldn’t bring himself to eat after suffering the final loss of his high school career. He went straight home and spent most of his time lying in bed for about four days, left largely alone except for his father making sure he was icing his knee.
He initially thought it might just be sprained. Then he got the news: He had torn his ACL. It hit him hard. In the back of his mind, he knew that he wouldn’t have to worry about his Michigan State scholarship. Months earlier, the coaches had pledged to Piqua (Ohio) linebacker commit Darien Clemons that they would stick by him after the same injury. There was precedent.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio backed up his assumptions by publicly sharing his support, saying, “We expect him to bounce back.” But Bridges still had initial doubts about his future.
His spirits got worse after the surgery on Dec. 14. To him, “It felt like the end of the world.” Four days later, he missed church, maybe one of the few things that could have lifted him up.
The medication kept him up at night and from doing the daily tasks that would make him feel productive. In the days following the surgery, Copley coach Scott Chouinard invited Bridges over.
“The kid eats you out of house and home,” Chouinard says. “He came over and he didn’t finish his food, and I knew something wasn’t right.”
Before the injury, the 6-foot Bridges weighed in at 204 pounds and Chouinard says his frame can likely hold at least 10 more pounds comfortably. But after the surgery, he dropped to 192, largely because of depleted quad, hamstring and calf muscles. Regardless of how Michigan State felt, he wasn’t sure whether he would come back.
“I didn’t know what to expect after that,” he says. “I thought it was the end of the road, for real.”
As weeks passed, though, his confidence and psyche began to rebuild. He started attending physical therapy three times a week at the PT Center in Fairlawn. He began to squat, bench press and do the majority of other lifts that he did before.
He began running again three months after surgery, which is where his recovery stands now. He hopes to reach the 90 percent mark by the time he gets on campus in June.
If anything, Bridges needs to tell himself to rest more. But he’s too eager to get back on the field. He doesn’t know God’s plan for him quite yet. He just knows that there is one.
“He was definitely testing my mindset, for sure,” Bridges says, “because this ACL was definitely a mindset more than anything. I believe he was just testing to see if I can stick with him through the process.”
‘Fighting every day’
Weston Bridges has been tested before.
He has a good setup at Copley, with the support staff of his guidance counselor, Chouinard and running backs coach Brian Falhamer to keep him on track academically. At this point, he doesn’t even need them in his ear much. Knowing where he’s headed has kept him on track.
Back in middle school, he needed more guidance. Weston lived just west of downtown Akron, a less well-to-do area than the suburbs where Copley is located. He attended two lower-performing middle schools: Litchfield and Innes.
His problems didn’t stem from school or home. And Weston never felt in danger walking around his neighborhood. But playing for the South Rangers Pee-Wee program, as helpful as it might have been for his football development, also mixed him up with the wrong people.
At 11 years old, Weston was going through conditioning with the team at Lane Field. While everyone else ran up a hill, his brother hung back. “He caught an attitude or something,” Weston remembers.
An upset teammate came up behind William and blindsided him with his shoulder pads. Weston stood up for William in the most instinctive way he knew how. He started fighting with the teammate.
Everything seemed to end in fighting those days. Weston even had his tooth knocked out by his brother on one occasion. The two have a close relationship but would often get rough with each other. Their father bought mouthpieces and boxing gloves for them at home, but it didn’t stop the scuffles at Lane Field.
“It was just bad,” Weston says. “It wasn’t that bad to the point where I was scared to go down there every day, but it was just fighting every day.”
Weston also dealt with turmoil at home. His parents separated while he was in middle school, and the boys moved in with their mother, Alisa. It hit Weston hard.
“I’m a family guy,” he says. “I love being around my family. Everything just felt distant. But at the end of the day, it was something I had to adjust to. It took me a couple years to get over it. I’m really not over it to this day.”
‘A different person now’
“There’s nothing out there in the streets,” William Bridges III would tell his sons. “If you’re not going to be constructive, you’re going to be destructive.”
Weston heard it differently. “There’s nothing really in the world for y’all but jail,” he remembers his father saying. Either way, the message was clear. Stay in school and on the football field. Stay off the inner-city streets.
It was almost midnight during Weston and Will’s eighth-grade year. Their father didn’t know where they were. He called Alisa. She didn’t know. He asked their three older sisters. They didn’t know.
So he got in his car and started driving. He checked the hot spots where they might be found. Eventually he found them in a rough part of town. His sons told him they had been playing Xbox at a friend’s house, but he wasn’t having it.
“I was really livid with them,” the elder Bridges said. “I said that was it. I told them that they were coming to live with me after that incident, and they didn’t have any other choice. And I told them that I was going to move them out to Copley.”
He had attended Copley and knew it would offer his sons a better chance to succeed academically and athletically.
William III initially moved his sons in with family in Copley until he found them their own apartment. He asked one of his daughters who had already graduated to move in with them early on to ease the transition.
“I’ve just been trying to get them acclimated to being on their own to see how they would handle it,” he says, “and they’ve handled it quite well.”
He checked in every day to bring over food and cook, and he didn’t allow his sons to get jobs as a way to keep them focused on Copley’s tougher academics. The two brothers haven’t physically fought since the move.
Weston hasn’t fought at school either, a stark shift from his days in the city. “You’re a different person now than you were then,” Chouinard tells him. On the field, he served as a leader both through his words and his actions.
But early during his time at Copley, Weston struggled academically. The higher academic standards put him in a hole that he would need to get out of to qualify for college admission. And he put in the work to get back on track.
“I had to take a summer class,” he says. “And I won’t be ashamed to admit it because if I were to tell kids right now as freshmen and sophomores, I would tell them, ‘Honestly, your freshman year is your most important year.’ How you start is how you’re going to finish. For me, I didn’t start off good, but I finished strong.”
— Weston ™✨ (@iWestonBridges) March 5, 2017
Apart from his longtime best friend, Zafeer, who transferred to Copley as a sophomore, Weston has left his past behind. He only goes back to the city to get food from Rally’s or a haircut from Robert L’s. He has no reason to return to Lane Field or reconnect with the people from his pee-wee years.
“I won’t ever go back there,” he says.
‘Didn’t get here on my own’
Weston Bridges shies away from boasting about or taking credit for his accomplishments.
Who’s stronger, him or his brother? He answers before the question has been completed. “Him. Easy. I’ll tell anybody that.” William IV will try to walk on at Akron should he get admitted.
Why is he headed to Michigan State? It has to be his massive numbers on the ground, right? “My offensive line. They’re the reason MSU offered me.”
And of course, when he scores a touchdown, his finger doesn’t point to his jersey or to his biceps. It points to the sky. He has been rewarded by facing his tests head-on and attacking them with vigor.
The latest test, the ACL tear, had him questioning the plan for a moment. But as he continues to recover from surgery, he thinks about all the people he’ll be letting down if he doesn’t keep working.
“If I give up on myself, I’m not just giving up on myself, I’m giving up on a lot of people, God also,” he says. “So many people are in my corner to help me get where I’m at. I didn’t get here on my own.”
For the complete Michigan State NextGen series, click this link.