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Fresno Bee, The (CA)

July 19, 2008

Justin Webber was high school football royalty by his junior season, but after a year lost to injury he's off to Fresno State, where his challenge is to ...

Author: Andy Boogaard The Fresno Bee

Article Text:

They gather at the Webber house in Sanger for the big night in early June.

Parents. Two sets of grandparents. Brother. Cousins.

They grab a bite to eat, then car pool to Tom Flores Stadium for Justin's high school graduation.

But there's a problem.

No Justin.

"He's not around," says Mike Webber, the dad. "And my wife's worried."

It's 5:30 p.m. The ceremony begins in 2 hours.

Phone rings. Mike answers.

"By the way, Dad," Justin begins, explaining he's at Sierra Sport & Racquet Club working out with Steve Sobonya.

The club, 30 miles away in northwest Fresno, has become his second home.

Sobonya, a personal trainer, has become his second father.

Mike Webber applauds this, watching the youngest of three sons -- a spectacular football player forgotten by many outside of Sanger -- fight back after missing all of his senior season in 2007 because of a knee injury.

Dad: "Son, it's grad night."

Justin: "Be there shortly."

Dad: "We have to get seats, we've got to go. Kid,! you're on your own."

He is, indeed.

Justin Webber, the Sanger youth legend.

Justin Webber, "the Valley's best player" as a junior, said coaches Tim McDonald of Edison and Tim Murphy of Clovis East.

Yes, Justin Webber is on his own, starting over.

"It's a 'prove a point' type thing," he says.

The launching point is Fresno State, where the 2006 Bee All-Star will walk on in three weeks with the option of playing running back or defensive back.

There was a day when the Bulldogs, Oregon State and San Jose State were lined up prepared to offer scholarships.

That was before he split his right anterior cruciate ligament in half making a "hop-cut I've made a million times" in an invitational Stanford camp 13 months ago.

"We've been humbled," his dad says. "We have to be modest. He hasn't even touched the field in two years. He has a long way to go.

"But he always believed as a little, little boy he would be a big-time Divi! sion I football player. And he wants it more than anything in ! the worl d."

Hill opens the door

Fresno State coach Pat Hill would never wish for such misfortune in order to land a player of Webber's caliber without having to pay a scholarship.

But he's big on walk-ons, especially locals.

"They're gold to me," he says.

Then he names a recent few who not only eventually earned scholarships, but NFL contracts as well: offensive lineman Logan Mankins (Mariposa High, New England Patriots), tight end Stephen Spach (Clovis, Patriots) and safety Cameron Worrell (Chowchilla, New York Jets).

"A lot of great players have started out for us as walk-ons," Hill says. "Justin's going to have a very good opportunity. He'll have to come in and compete with a lot of good players. But he has good instincts, is strong and knows how to compete very hard.

"Where it goes from here is up to him. This is all based on production, not potential."

Kid, you're on your own.

"I'm not going to give myself any excuses," Webb! er says. "I'm not going to go in and be a starter, I understand that. But I definitely feel I belong and I don't expect any less of myself. Nothing's any different, because I know I can still play."

Few played as well in the Central Section.

As a junior, he rushed for 1,790 yards and scored 26 touchdowns and, some say, was even better as a safety while being named County/Metro Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

He played then at 5 feet, 9 inches and 185 pounds.

Today, he's carrying a solid 200 pounds at the same height and, he says, runs maybe faster than before.

This is with a knee now stabilized by a ligament from a cadaver attached by Fresno orthopedist Eric Hanson in a procedure called patella tendon allograft.

This is about months of four- and five-day-a-week rehabilitation and training.

Simply, this is how you almost miss your own graduation; a student with a 3.8 grade-point average.

"Not one night just to! relax and hang out," his dad says in reference again to the c! elebrati on. "He has goals. He loves it. He wants to be the best football player. He's always risen to the occasion, and I really don't expect this to be any different."

Such ascension to the top also has been experienced by former Fresno State players now in the NFL such as Richard Marshall, James Sanders and Worrell, who also train under Sobonya.

So advanced is Webber, Sobonya says, he involves him with the pros while running the gamut of workouts -- conditioning, weight lifting and biometric testing.

"Someone like Cameron has looked at Justin and said, 'That guy's only a freshman?' " Sobonya says. "I've been very impressed. He's kind of turned this negative into a positive, meaning he's so upset he had his senior season taken away that he's using positive energy to prove everybody wrong."

Kid, you're on your own.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6336.


Ex-Sanger High football star Justin Webber has been rehabbing his 13-month-old knee injury at Sierra Sport & Racquet Club.

Copyright (c) 2008 The Fresno Bee
Record Number: FRS_0416137946