There is a bulletin board that hangs in the auxiliary gym at West Caldwell as you head down the hallway towards the boys’ basketball locker room.
On this particular bulletin board, draped in royal blue paper, hangs a white banner across the top proclaiming “Player of the Week” and two weeks into the 2004 football season Justin McCall’s name has been posted under that banner twice.
The senior linebacker, who is also putting in some time at tailback and punting, was a natural choice for the Warrior coaching staff to make for consecutive players of the week.
“He plays hard when you’re winning and he plays hard you’re behind,” West Caldwell head coach Mark Buffamoyer said. “He exemplifies what we’re asking our football players to do and that is play hard regardless of what the score is, regardless of what the situation is.
“He’s out there trying to make plays and we’re proud of him. He’s setting an example for some young kids in West Caldwell football.”
Even during a disappointing 31-13 loss to South Caldwell – the first loss to the Spartans since 1993 – McCall tallied 14 tackles and an interception against West Caldwell’s county rival.
“Every game I play, I play with all my heart,” the Warrior linebacker said. “I try my best to do what I can out there. I just leave it all out on the field and try until I can’t go no more.”
The loss hurt, but McCall said he cannot dwell on past games.
“It was hard (to lose to South Caldwell),” McCall said. “(You) go out there and try your best and lose. You’ve just got to fight until next week and see what happens.”
Even in the fourth quarter, the Warrior linebacker never conceded the victory to the Spartans, posting five of his 14 tackles in the final frame.
“That’s when it counted for us. It’s an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I slept,’ or ‘I’m not going to make a play,’ and here’s a kid who makes four (tackles) in a row at one time in the fourth quarter,” Buffamoyer said about McCall’s fourth quarter performance.
“That’s what we tell our kids – it’s easy to play when you’re winning. We want to know when the chips are down how hard you’re going to play.”
However, McCall, in a typical football defense mindset, is less interested in individual accomplishments than he is in winning.
“Without the team, we can’t win because one guy can’t do it all,” he said.
McCall would not mind repeating his all-conference and all-county performance from last year in his senior season, but he also recognizes there are 10 other guys on defense that have to do their jobs for the Warriors to find success.
“We’ve got to practice hard everyday and get better and better,” the Warrior linebacker said.
This get-the-job-done mentality impresses his new football coach to no end.
“We may have some kids who have great numbers that may not be our player of the week,” Buffamoyer said. “We’re talking about beyond the call of duty and he’s been named (player of the week) twice – the Watauga and the South Caldwell (game) – because he plays hard consistently.
“He’s not playing one quarter and then taking a quarter off – just consistently for eight quarters now in two football games, he’s exemplified that.”
As with any coaching change, especially at the head coach’s spot, there is an acclimation period for a football team. However, McCall’s blue-collar attitude made the adjustment quickly.
“It’s a lot different. We changed offenses and we changed the defense around a lot,” McCall said. “But the more you practice, you get used to it. It didn’t take long for me to get used to it.”
As a linebacker, he preferred the 6-3 defense to the 4-4, eight-man front which Buffamoyer brought in, but he’s never complained and simply made the changes he’s needed to make to be successful in the new system.
“Whatever he wants to do,” McCall said about Buffamoyer’s changes.
And the coaching staff has the utmost confidence in McCall’s talents and leadership on the gridiron.
“He sets his example by what he does, and that is on the field. When he is on the field, I trust him because I know that he is going to play hard,” Buffamoyer said. “Vocal? No, but I think he sets the best example. He’s going to do it and then talk about it, and actually he doesn’t really talk about it. He just plays hard and that’s what we want him to do is play hard.”
The senior linebacker is more than just a football player, though.
McCall also plays baseball and wrestles. He admires St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger Albert Pujols and plays first base for the Warriors as well as wrestling in the 189 weight class.
“My dad got me into (baseball),” McCall said. “He’s pushed me to play any sport that I could, mainly to keep me out of trouble.”
He enjoys hunting and swimming.
But for now, he’s a football player – a blue-collar, get-your-job-done football player.
“He’s not looking for anything special,” Buffamoyer said. “He’s just wants the opportunity to play football, and he’s getting that opportunity and he’ll continue to get the opportunity to do that here.”