ELMORE – Tanner Payton saw his dad’s face light up and an uncle’s did a fair imitation, too.
Not to say that Payton hadn’t done it himself.
Edgewood, with a winning streak that has reached a state-record 58 games and has won five straight AISA championships, has seen dividends in more tangible ways.
Its football field house, which had one expansion between when Payton’s dad and uncle played for the Wildcats, has undergone another addition over the past year.
In that time, Edgewood has gone from being an AISA football afterthought to a long run as the AISA’s preeminent team.
“When they were in school here, I doubt they could imagine how it is now,” said Payton, now an Edgewood senior. “It puts a huge smile on their faces to see what has happened to this program.”
The expansion gave the Wildcats much more than just room to recognize their championships.
It allowed Edgewood to have separate locker rooms for its varsity and junior high teams and gave the Wildcats space to do more than bump into each other. (The visiting team uses the junior-high locker room for games.)
It meant Edgewood could expand its weight room, its coaching offices and its athletic training capacity.
“Before, we just had that little field house and we were all on top of each other,” junior Jackson Tate said. “Now, everything is so much nicer. One thing about the success we’ve had is how much people want to support us.
“Without that, it would have been a lot harder to get funds and donations.”
The latest expansion cost about $80,000, coach Bobby Carr said, or — to be more exact — would have cost about $80,000.
Here’s the rub: “It didn’t cost the school a penny,” Carr said. All the money was raised or services and material donated by generous parents and supporters, Carr said.
Elbow grease, too.
“So many people and our coaches did so much,” Carr said. “The coaches even built their own lockers, except for Coach Carr and (assistant coach Scott) Tubbs, because we supervised.”
It’s the latest in a remarkable turnaround for a once-poor program, according to not only Carr but from players whose older family also played at Edgewood.
Payton’s dad, Ashley, was a senior on the 1994 team and, Payton said, tells about shortages of helmets and shoulder pads. The field house had no air conditioning or heat.
Tate has heard of the weight “room” being comprised of just one or two benches “and equipment was stacked on top of that.”
“They had just about nothing compared to what we have now,” Payton said. “They had to learn to deal with it.”
Carr remembers Christmas 2000, just after he’d been hired at Edgewood, and he walked into the field house for the first time.
The Wildcats had reached the playoffs just once in the previous nine seasons, had experienced just two winning seasons over the prior 17 (6-4 in 1989, 6-5 in 1988) and had played for an AISA title just once (1982).
He had to wipe cobwebs off those equipment-strewn benches.
“This place was a graveyard,” Carr said. “I told my coaches, ‘No wonder nobody wants to play football,’ but those guys on our first few teams paved the way for today’s players, and they didn’t get the benefit.
“They paid in blood, sweat and tears. They were bound and determined to turn things around.”
Edgewood finished 9-2 and made the Class AA playoffs in 2001 in a sign of things to come.
The Wildcats have played for an AISA championship nine times in the past 12 years, including each of the last seven.
Only a 30-29 loss to Monroe Academy in 2009, on a 39-yard field goal with three seconds to play, keeps Edgewood from being a seven-time reigning state champion.
“It’s changed so much,” said Nancy Oates, whose son, Nick, graduated this spring and who said she has been around Edgewood sports “all my life.”
“Athletics at Edgewood were awful,” Oates said. “Back in 1982, you didn’t get rings back then. You’d get a jacket if you won something. Well, Edgewood had been so bad for so long, they got ‘state runner-up’ jackets.
“Now, they win state all the time.”
Oates, a real estate agent, was the unofficial construction manager for the latest expansion. Payton’s dad, Ashley, and uncle Jason (Class of 2003) were among the volunteers.
Edgewood has even named the facility for one of its former players. Spencer J. Coleman (Class of 2005) died in a January car accident.
Their work, both over the last 15 years on the field and over the last one in the field house, draws applause.
“All of those teams built the foundation for what this program has become,” Tate said. “They don’t get to enjoy all of this as much as we do, but we appreciate what they did.
“What we have is because of all of them.”