I received a much appreciated honor at the annual Legends Gala by being inducted into the Jeff Davis High School Football Hall of Fame.
Not as a player, of course, but as a supporter. I jokingly told people that the football players honored by inclusion in the Hall of Fame played only three or four years. It took me 48 years of walking the sidelines taking photos to get my honor.
There wasn’t a lot of time for an acceptance speech and I was unable to trim down 48 years worth of memories into a short presentation, so I didn’t do any reminiscing.
I did, however, tell the story of my seeing former Yellow Jacket basketball/baseball player Chuck Smith who had flown into Hazlehurst from his home in Texas for his grandson’s graduation from Jeff Davis High last month.
He mentioned that he had two other grandchildren, both of whom play sports for JDHS. That means I’m now covering a third generation of Yellow Jackets. And Chuck’s grandchildren are far from being the only 3rd generations I’ve covered.
I did reminisce about one story involving 2021 Hall of Fame inductee Dexter Knox who, still recovering from a severe stroke, attended the Gala in a wheel chair and let his wife do the speaking for him as the stroke had reduced his voice to a gravelly remnant of his old self.
I told the story about Dexter’s bulling his way into the endzone pushing and carrying on his back six would-be Vidalia tacklers for a game-winning, final quarter touchdown during his playing days in the 1980s.
There were other stories I wanted to tell like the fact that 1970s linebacker Hall of Famers Mike Stewart and Bobby Varnadoe wouldn’t last long in a game these days because they were both headhunters which, today, are known as targeters.
This was in the 1970s, long before the medical profession realized what harm repeated blows to the head could do to football players in the years after they hung up their cleats for good. Targeting wasn’t even in the football vocabulary back then.
And the story of the greatest football comeback I’ve experienced in more than 50 years on the sidelines here and in my former hometown where I first got ink in my blood.
That would be the playoff game when our undefeated, 12-0 Yellow Jackets met East Coweta in Hazlehurst in the first round of the 1990 playoffs. After just four offensive plays by the Indians, the visitors had a 19-0 lead and the stunned Yellow Jackets had yet to make a first down.
But Coach Tom Hybl and his staff kept their calm and the Jackets didn’t panic. Trailing 19-7 at halftime, the Jackets took the second half kickoff and marched down the field to cut East Coweta’s lead to 19-14.
After trading TDs, the Indians still led 25-21 with time running out. With less than two minutes to play and the Jackets on the Indians 15 yard line, Barry Jones threw a halfback pass to Crandall Ryles. The pass was well short of the mark and it looked like the Indians’ Eric Horsley would easily pick off the pass at the goalline. But from the back of the end zone, Ryles came back, outleaped Horsley, reaching over his helmet and taking the ball right out of Horsley’s hands for the game winning touchdown.
The defense did the rest, keeping East Coweta out of the end zone for the final 1:31 of the game.
It’s a game no Jacket fan will ever forget.