Drew Winn was barely out of diapers when he slung his chubby, toddler leg over the seat of a tiny dirt bike for the first time.
Not quite 3 years old, Drew grabbed hold of the handlebars, gave it the gas and took off, trying his best to keep up with his older brothers.
The Winns of Change
Dayton Winn was the first of three brothers to star for Pea Ridge, making his varsity football debut in 2010. Dakota Winn followed from 2012-2014, and Drew Winn followed from 2014-present. In the five seasons prior to Dayton’s first season, the Blackhawks were 17-34. From 2010 to the present season, the Blackhawks are 60-24, excluding the 2013 season when Dakota was injured and missed all 10 games.
* — Seasons a Winn was on the roster.
# — Dakota Winn missed the season with an injury.
Source: Almanac of Arkansas High School Football
He's been going full throttle ever since.
"People don't believe me when I tell them Drew was riding a bicycle with no training wheels when he was 2 years and two months old," said his dad, Harvey "Dickie" Winn. "He was riding a dirt bike with no training wheels when he was 2-and-a-half. I've got video of him doing 6-foot jumps when he was 3 on a motorcycle, and no one ever believes me until I show them old VHS tapes."
Drew Winn, youngest of the Winn brothers --Dayton, who graduated in 2013, and Dakota, who graduated in 2015. All three have been star players for the Blackhawks football team and helped elevate the program into a Class 4A power.
Two years before Dayton Winn's arrival on the varsity team, Pea Ridge was a combined 3-17 under then-coach Tony Travis. In his junior season, the Blackhawks were 4-6 and took Shiloh Christian to the wire in a close loss that Travis called "a program-changing moment."
"Before that year, the kids were just glad to get the Shiloh game over with," Travis, who now is the head coach at Rogers Heritage, said. "That night the kids had their heads down after the game because not only did they know they could compete with them, they felt like they should have won the game."
Since 2012, Pea Ridge has been one of the elite programs in the 4A-1 Conference, not counting the 2013 season when the Blackhawks were "Winn-less" as Dakota Winn and another key player missed the entire season with injuries.
Dakota Winn returned for his senior season in 2014 and helped the team post its first perfect 10-0 season that included the first win over Shiloh Christian in many years and a conference championship. From 2006-09, Pea Ridge was 10-30. From 2010 to this season, the program is 60-24 with a Winn on the roster, excluding the 2013 season that Dakota Winn did not play.
"We had a lot of good players that helped build the program, but the Winn boys certainly had a big impact," Travis said. "I don't think it's any coincidence that we were a better team with them on the roster."
Growing up Winn
The elder Winn played football and was a kick-boxer growing up in southeastern New Mexico. He saw very early that his sons were gifted in sports, with Dayton "scoring about 10 goals a game" playing soccer as a youngster in Bentonville.
"We played just about everything," he said of the boys. "We had a trampoline and a big concrete pad at the house and the boys played basketball and rode their bikes for hours and hours. Dayton and Dakota were older, but Drew wanted to do what they were doing, so he learned how to ride and play whatever they were playing.
"There is no doubt that having older brothers made him tougher, but they were also great role models for him to follow."
Dayton Winn was in the eighth-grade when Travis started his first season at Pea Ridge, and the coach knew immediately that Winn had the tools to be a great running back.
"He just had a tremendous desire to be good and a tremendous work ethic," Travis said, "but he also just had a lot of talent and vision. He could see holes and seams that not many others can and that's what all the great backs have."
Dayton grew into his role as Pea Ridge's go-to player as the 'I' back in a run-oriented offense. As a sophomore, he topped the 100-yard mark a couple of times but really came into his own over the final two seasons. As a junior, he had 1,857 all-purpose yards including 1,502 rushing and 19 total touchdowns as the Blackhawks posted their best season (4-6) in four years.
Those numbers paled in comparison to what he did his senior season, rushing for 2,068 yards and 21 touchdowns to lead the Blackhawks to a 10-2 record. His rushing total was the highest in Arkansas that season and he found the end zone 25 times.
Hendrix College was one of just a handful of programs that offered Dayton a chance to play at the next level. What a stroke of genius that proved to be for a program that was starting its first season.
Dayton was a star from the moment he stepped foot on the Conway campus, where he graduated in four years with a sports management degree. On the field, he was a two-time Little All-American and two-time conference Player of the Year. He had 829 carries for 5,009 career rushing yards and 63 touchdowns. He also caught 119 passes for 1,221 yards and 10 more touchdowns and compiled 8,296 career all-purpose yards.
"There were a lot of people who did not believe Dayton could play college football," Travis said. "All that did was just make him more determined."
More success followed as he was signed to a professional contract for a team in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he led the team to a Mermaid Bowl win and earned Most Valuable Player honors last season.
Dayton is unsure if he will return to play in Europe again next season. Currently, he is working at Academy Sports in Fayetteville and waiting on a call from a professional team for perhaps one more season before he gets into coaching. Eventually, he plans to use his sports management degree to become an athletic director, he said.
Next up, Dakota
Dakota was a running back growing up like his elder brother and blessed with that Winn speed. He got a few carries as a sophomore during Dayton's senior season and scored a couple of touchdowns, but like most underclassmen, Dakota had to wait his turn to shine under the Friday night lights.
The 2013 season was supposed to be his time, but his season ended before it ever got started when he suffered a gruesome arm injury during an August practice that required season-ending surgery.
Already short-handed from the graduation of 21 starters from the season before and losing another key player at the same time torpedoed the Blackhawks' season and the result was a 1-9 record.
"It seemed like if anything could go wrong, it did for us that season," Travis said. "We lost Dakota Winn and Dakota Canaday and both were going to contribute a lot that season."
The 2014 season was a complete reversal as Dakota, who is a student at Pitt State now, became a lock-down defender on the corner. He also blocked a punt in a game against Berryville that resulted in a touchdown.
But nothing compared to the game he played against Shiloh Christian on that November night. Seemingly every pass that the Saints attempted that game was either batted down by Dakota, or intercepted by Seth Brumley, who returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown. After coming close in 2011, the Blackhawks finally broke through against the most successful 4A program in the state that night.
"Our kids had been waiting for that game for a long time," Travis said. "We had not beaten Shiloh in about 14 or 15 years, back before they were the Shiloh we know now."
The best one yet?
On the sideline that night in Blackhawks Stadium in 2014, Drew Winn was pacing and wanting to get in the game. The sophomore was a backup to star tailback Zaine Holley, but toward the end of the season, he began to show a knack for getting into the end zone.
"It seemed like the last five or six games, including the playoffs, Drew scored a touchdown in all of them," Travis said. "He has a nose for the end zone."
That was just a glimpse of what was to come.
Travis left for Heritage in the offseason of 2016 and was replaced by Stephen Neal, a defensive coach from powerhouse Tulsa (Okla.) Union. Neal hired Crosby Tuck away from Shiloh Christian to be the new offensive coordinator and immediately speculation that Pea Ridge would scrap its power run offense for the wide-open spread.
Neal quickly put those rumors to rest and vowed to stay with the run-heavy offense with two star backs in Winn and Holley. They powered the Blackhawks to the best record in program history, winning 13 games and earning the school's first state championship game appearance. Holley rushed for 1,500 yards and Winn had 1,300, but averaged 11.2 yards per carry and scored 23 touchdowns.
"Even before I was hired, during the interview process, I got on Hudl (an online video program) and you could just see how he stood out," Neal said of Drew Winn. "I'm a defensive guy and I noticed him on defense first and the plays he was making. Then I looked at the roster and saw that he was a sophomore and knew he had two big years coming up."
The numbers have been even better this season for the 6-foot, 180-pound senior who boasts multiple college offers including one Division I program in Washington. He has also been offered as a preferred walk-on at Arkansas, and coaches from a number of other programs have been in contact with him this season and are expected to offer in the coming weeks.
Drew has legitimate 4.5-second speed over 40 yards, Neal said, but the coach added that speed is not what separates his star tailback from other speedy runners.
"He is fast, but he's got that next gear speed that is noticeable on film," Neal said. "You see defenders have an angle on him and all the sudden he just accelerates past them. That is just unmatched from what I've ever seen."
Last week Drew hit a milestone he was unaware of when his third-quarter touchdown run against Hamburg pushed him over the 2,000-yard rushing mark for the season. He is within striking distance of Dayton's 2012 mark of 2,068. He surpassed that Friday night against Booneville in a third-round playoff game with he gained 167 yards on 33 carries.
"No one wants to see their records get broken," said Dayton, who admits the brothers are ultra-competitive in everything they do. "But if anyone breaks it, I hope it's Drew."
Drew said it would be an honor to surpass his older brother's rushing mark.
He has taken his success in stride and, like his dad, credits growing up the youngest of three siblings as a major contributing factor in his early growth as an athlete.
"Just being competitive growing up with them, it kind of gave me an edge on my shoulder," he said. "When it came to sports, or anything really, I just took it as something to be competitive at."
Dickie said when the boys were younger, Dayton was always the peacekeeper when his siblings had squabbles, usually over a game of dunk-ball, a basketball game they made up.
"I always had to step in and separate them," Dayton laughed. "They were always going at it."
Somewhere in the future, when the Winns are no longer racing past bewildered defenders and celebrating in the end zone, they will have the kind of gridiron glory stories that often get embellished as the years, like yardage markers on the football field, pass by.
The Winn brothers won't have to embellish their accomplishments. The actual numbers are already remarkable on their own.Sports on 11/29/2017
Print Headline: All They Do Is Winn, Winn, Winn