By Steve Williams
Will McMahan stands out at Carter High football games, particularly at halftime. He’s the guy playing a saxophone and marching in the school band in his football uniform, a rare sight indeed.
Before and after the 20-minute intermission, McMahan, a 6-4, 235-pound senior, is the Hornets’ offensive right tackle. He “loves” band and football and appreciates being given the opportunity of doing both.
“I couldn’t imagine my life without football and I enjoy every second I’m in band,” he said the day before the season opener against Anderson County last week.
In addition to his musical and athletic talents, the versatile 17-year-old also excels in academics.
As for football, McMahan began in flag football at age 5 and played all the way through Carter’s youth program. His first opportunity to get into band came in the sixth grade at Carter Middle School. He played the clarinet that year and was permitted to take up the saxophone in the seventh grade.
“When I was in sixth grade,” recalled McMahan, “they always encouraged us not to quit band, because we could play in the band and be in football. so ever since I heard that the first time, that’s what I decided to do. I love doing both.”
McMahan believes that’s not true at all schools.
“I look at myself as completely an outlier to what typical high school bands and football programs want their band members and football players to be,” he said. “Most bands don’t really want their students involved in football because it takes away from band time and vice versa.
“I like being able to do things, and everything I do, I try to be the best at it.”
McMahan said “sometimes you lose great musicians to football in high school.” He hopes what he’s doing at Carter, being involved in both football and band, will encourage others to do both.
Carter has band rehearsals Mondays after school from 4 to 6:30 p.m. McMahan is at football practice during that time and has to make up the band work he misses the next day in class. The band’s saxophone section, which he heads up, meets Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so he has to get caught up and also learn what others in that section are doing.
“Sometimes it can be a hard thing to do,” he said. “It’s hard to balance, but I feel like I do it well.”
McMahan would relish doing both band and football in college, if such an opportunity came along. But he if had to choose one over the other, he would select band, because “I see how people get seriously hurt sometimes in football. I understand my limitations in football and I know what I can do.”
McMahan has received interest from colleges in football, band and academics.
“Whatever door God opens up for me is where I will go,” he said.
“I want to be a surgeon when I grow up and major in pre-med.”
Kristin Arp, in her second year as the Carter band director, said: “Will has been a super asset to our organization. He works harder probably than any kid I know to be able to do both. He’s fully committed to football and also fully committed to our organization. I know I can count on him for anything and I know he will be there. He’s just one of those kids that you really don’t have to worry about. He’s always responsible and very hard working.”
Derek Witt, Carter’s head football coach, also has Will in his Principles of Engineering class.
“He’s a real intelligent kid,” said Witt. “He probably has the highest ACT score on our football team, and his GPA is up there as well. There’s no doubt about it that he’s a very bright individual.”
Coach Witt recalled McMahan’s versatility as he tried track and field for the first time this past spring.
“Will couldn’t find the event he wanted, so it seemed like he tried them all,” said Witt. “He ran the 800, the 300 hurdles and the high hurdles. He threw the shot and discus, and I believe he ran the 1600 as well. He was just looking for that event that suited him best. He’ll try anything.”