Late events yesterday tied in perfectly with the final edition of this mini-series I’ve toyed with this week. T Kyle has a nice write-up about Lonnie Outlaw, whom I mentioned in my post on Tuesday. I was actually told last Friday that CMR and CMB were talking not only with Marshall, but Outlaw as well. I was also told that he wouldn’t be going to Athens this fall, but to GMC. I’m really excited to watch this duo mature and progress. This helps our chances with NM, and we could see something special in the years to come.
Ok, moving forward. National Signing Day brings a lot of excitement to each town across the state. But the path to getting there is even more exciting in many cases. Such is true with rural Rochelle, GA. Today I am going to talk about the fans perspective of having celebrity Head Coaches come to sporting events and visit town.
Last Friday night, there was an electric buzz flowing through the Hawkinsville High gymnasium in anticipation of CMR arriving. It’s hard, make that impossible, to keep a secret in a small town. Everyone knew that CMR was coming to town. Everyone knew that he was flying into the airport in the neighboring community and that one of the coaches had gone to pick him up. Everyone knew that he was there to try and build upon his relationship with Nick Marshall. And when he walked in the door, every eye turned to him and watched him walk to his seat.
When someone the likes of Coach Richt comes to a small South Georgia town, where over 90% of the population are diehard Bulldogs (and the other 10% aren’t just to be different), it’s a big deal. When CMR goes to Gwinnett or Valdosta, it’s not that big a deal. But it’s different in towns like Rochelle, Hawkinsville, Lincolnton, etc.
The buzz on Friday night was incredible. The fans were just fun to watch. When folks from Hawkinsville came over to visit with CMR, some of the more vocal Wilcox County inhabitants were eager to tell them to get back on their side. My favorite comment was “Charles Johnson ain’t here no more, so just get on.” It was a hoot. Everybody wanted to come by. Some were a little braver than others, making a point to try and carry on conversation and take a picture. Some of the others just wanted to get close to CMR and get a glimpse of him up close. I don’t know how many folks were there Friday night, but I’d venture to guess that well more than half made the effort to get an autograph. You’d have thought that the POTUS was in attendance.
The day before, Coach Saban and Coach Smart were in Rochelle. From what I hear, there was a traffic jam in downtown Rochelle. The first to ever be recorded.
I’m from a rural town Georgia myself, so I know what it’s like to grow up admiring Bulldog greats. Where I come from, you’d swear it’s the heart of Bulldog Country. Flags outside of houses, mailbox coverings, car tags, etc. Of course, it’s like that in most small towns. College football, The University of Georgia to be specific, gives us all something to rally around. The same is true in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, etc. So when a poor rural town gets a special visitor, the red carpet is rolled out and the attention is turned on high. You have to displace yourself for a moment if you’ve never spent any time in a small town and think about the way of life as compared to places like Warner Robins, Macon, Cumming, Roswell, etc. There aren’t the restaurants, bars, movie theaters, or other forms of entertainment in these small towns. In Rochelle, as I mentioned on Monday, the only place to eat a meal outside of your home is a Subway, now that Nell’s Fried Chicken is closed. Or you can make the drive to Cordele.
I say that to make this final point: When Coach Mark Richt visits your school to look at one of your players, it’s magnified. It’s also extra-special. You take ownership of the kid. Every single person from Wilcox County knows Nick Marshall and Lonnie Outlaw. They’ve all watched the boys grow up, play little league and middle school ball, and grow into exceptional athletes. There’s a greater sense of pride when national powerhouses come wanting “your” players. There’s an even greater feeling when it’s your University of Georgia. These kids ARE Wilcox County. They are the bright spots that bring State Championships to a community that needs something to rally around. They get people excited, and they show outsiders where their community is on a map. It’s not just Rochelle, GA. The Bailey boys showed the world where Folkston, GA is. Herschel Walker put Wrightsville on the map. Travis Jones did the same for Irwinton.
There is more to offer in cities like Valdosta, Warner Robins, and the metro Atlanta area, so you don’t get the entire community behind you and supporting you like you do in Rochelle. There’s no real way to describe it other than to say it’s just special.
There are similar stories across our state and nation that could be told. I just happened to find this one very interesting and thought that you would enjoy reading about it. I hope that I was able to offer a new perspective to many of you, and to others to refresh fond memories. The main point I wanted to get across is that recruiting in rural Georgia, whether it be North, South, or Middle, is just a lot different than recruiting in your major markets. It’s a community affair, and it draws people together. And it’s fun to watch in action.
We’re officially into the off-season now, I hope it’s a good one for you. Be excited about Lonnie Outlaw, and hope that he can help convince his buddy Nick to come play ball with him in Athens. And if you get the chance, go watch these 2 play basketball together. I have no doubt that they’ll make it to the State Championship in Macon, so if you can, do yourself the favor.
I promised to add some pictures from Friday night. They were taken with a blackberry, so the quality is not very good. Most aren’t even worth putting up. Here are a few that turned out ok though. Enjoy.
Coach McClendon and Coach Richt beside Kensingtondawg
Nick and Lonnie- Future UGA Studs
CMR and A Good Lookin' Woman