Former Army linebacker Lyle Weaver is remembered as a fierce competitor
By SAL INTERDONATO | The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. | Published: November 20, 2020
MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Lyle Weaver locked eyes with Josh Gonzalez and made the Army offensive lineman a promise.
Weaver first laughed when Gonzalez asked him and the Black Knights' defense to finish off Louisville in double overtime on a Thursday night in October 1999. Then, Weaver vowed Army's offense wouldn't have to take the field again.
The vow turned into reality as the two classmates would celebrate one of most epic wins (59-52) at Michie Stadium in the last quarter century.
Those stories and more were shared as Weaver's Army teammates made the trip to Atlanta for what would be his final days over the last few weeks. Weaver, who shined in the Hula Bowl his senior year and had a tryout with the Jets, lost his fight with cancer Thursday at the age of 42.
"That's more of the human side," Gonzalez said recalling the Louisville game. "He returned interceptions. He had sacks and made tackles but that was my friend right there. That was the guy that I met when I was 17 (at Army Prep).
"He would do absolutely anything in the world for you. It didn't matter if you were the team manager. It always radiated enough that people were drawn to him because he had that presence of a dominating force and a block of granite before he got the illness but he also had a warm heart that you could see."
Former Army coach Bob Sutton called Weaver, a 2001 West Point graduate, as "one of the better players that I was around," during his time at Army from 1983 to 1999. Weaver's five forced fumbles in 1999 still stand tied as a single-season record at the academy. His 299 career tackles rank 12th in Army history while Weaver's 28 tackles for loss are 11th.
Weaver, who was originally recruited as a safety, returned two of his career four interceptions for touchdowns. He was a playmaker, who made his presence felt every game no matter the opponent.
"He was fierce," Sutton said. "He wasn't the tallest guy in the world but physical and highly competitive.
"He had a great belief and confidence in his self. He loved challenges. The better the player that he was going against, the more inspired he was. The bigger the challenge brought out the absolute best in him."
Derick McNally recalls a pre-game speech by Weaver before taking the field at Notre Dame their sophomore seasons. Weaver encouraged his teammates to take it to The Irish and not be intimidated. He backed up his words by blocking a punt on Notre Dame's first series. Weaver pumped his hands up, celebrating the block. The Irish, which were 9-3 and finished No. 22 in the country, would edge Army 20-17 on a late field goal.
"It was that type of enthusiasm that set the tone for everything that followed," McNally said. "It was important for him to build that energy and momentum with other players and inspire them that they could do the same thing. That play he made could be a play that they could make next."
Weaver recorded a career-high 118 tackles in 1998. He was one of the "toughest and hardest-hitting players" that Mike Sullivan, a defensive backs coach in 1999-2000, has ever seen at Army.
"And he has some pretty unique celebrations after delivering those big hits," said Sullivan, a former Army football player and current director of recruiting. "I vividly remember the first time we sat down for a one-on-one talk. He had such an intense and serious expression.
"He kept his eyes on me with a look that let me know right away he was determined to be a great player. He was highly respected by players and coaches."
Sutton, who went on to become the defensive coordinator for the Jets and Chiefs, said Weaver possessed the skills to be a natural special teams players in the NFL. Weaver's good heart may have hurt his NFL chances. When a member of his company asked Weaver to participate in an intramural football game after his playing career at West Point, he agreed. Weaver injured his knee in one of the intramural games.
"Here's somebody that knows he has an opportunity to be drafted or signed at the professional level, went to Hula Bowl and played well there and had a legitimate opportunity unbeknownst to anyone at the school," McNally said. "He goes out and plays intramurals because a friend asked him to."
Sutton added about Weaver's football future beyond West Point: " He had all of the qualities. He was physical. He was tough. He had good speed. He had great power. I think it would have been interesting."
Former teammates and coaches, including current Army assistant John Loose, called Weaver during the last few weeks to remind him of the impact that's he left on them. Weaver was quick to deflect any praise and point out what his friends had meant to him.
"Lyle was a friend and he was a very loyal friend," McNally said. "Once you were a friend of his, you were a friend for life."
Weaver's friends recently started a campaign to get him inducted into the Army Sports Hall of Fame. The memory of Weaver's talents on and off the field will continue to live through them.
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