The Atlanta Falcons Coach of the Week program recognizes high school football coaches across the state of Georgia for their hard work and dedication to making a difference in student-athletes’ lives on and off the field. The seventh winner of the 2018 season is Pike County head coach Brad Webber, and his recognition is being extended to the entire Pirates community for the strength and support they’ve shown each other following the tragic loss of Dylan Thomas on Sept. 30.
Thomas—a 16-year-old junior running back and linebacker—severely injured his brain during Pike County’s home contest with Peach County on Sept. 28. He was rushed to Grady Hospital—where he underwent a series of surgical procedures—and passed away two nights later.
Coach Webber came to know Thomas especially well, as he and his son Walker (pictured above No. 17) both belonged to the Class of 2020, and were close friends on and off the field. Following the heartbreaking news, Webber described Dylan as the “heart and soul” of his defense, and publicly stated that “he was one of the finest men I’ve ever met in my life.”
An unimaginably difficult healing process began, and the Pirates met up with Rutland at Ed Defore Stadium in Macon on Oct. 5—just five days following the pronouncement of his passing. Dylan’s number 32 jersey was on display with the assortment of other No. 32’s that had been sent in from surrounding schools. The defense played inspired—holding Rutland’s offense scoreless—and the Pirates stamped a 48-2 victory. Pike County hosted Central-Macon the following week and defeated the Chargers 17-15 to improve to 6-1 on the year.
The Atlanta Falcons had been in Pittsburgh to face the Steelers on Oct. 7, and their 34-29 win over Tampa Bay this past Sunday was their first home game since Dylan’s passing. Coach Webber and the Pirates were invited to Flowery Branch the day before kickoff for a closed walk-thru. Then on game day, Coach Webber, the Pirates, and the parents of Dylan—Darren and Shannon Thomas—arrived at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a moving tribute. Before kickoff, they stood at the goal line shoulder-to-shoulder with Dylan’s jersey at the center. The entire stadium turned their attention toward the goal line as Dylan was recognized, and the game was dedicated to be played in his honor.
Falcons Owner Arthur Blank presented the Thomas family with a framed No. 32 Falcons jersey with “THOMAS” on the back that the whole team had signed, then invited the family to join him in the Owner’s Suite for the game.
There's still plenty of season left for the Pirates of Red and Black, who are set to take on Jackson High School this Friday night in a crucial Region 4-AAA matchup. Coach Webber holds a 3-1 all-time record against the Red Devils, and his Pirates took last year’s meeting 52-14. Webber’s 40 wins at the school are the most by any coach in its 48-year history. Additionally, the Pirates achieved a school-record nine victories last season, while advancing to the state quarterfinals for the first time in history.
Each week, one coach will be selected to be the Atlanta Falcons Coach of the Week based on his commitment to his team, community and player safety. The winning coach will receive a $1,000 equipment grant, a commemorative football and tickets to an Atlanta Falcons home game.
Rolling nominations will be accepted until Nov. 1.