Most of the stories about former Bradwell coach Hokey Jackson, who died Wednesday night in Athens, are about him taking BI to region and south Georgia championships and the 1965 state title. They detail 100 wins in just 14 seasons.
All of it is true. But when talk starts about the old coach, I think first about a loss.
In 1967, two years after the state championship, the Lions entered the season with high hopes. The team was 8-2 in 1966 and had lots of returning starters.
The Lions opened the season with a loss to single-A Statesboro, won the next three and then tied Waynesboro 0-0. Then a tough defeat by Lyons. Two more wins over Southeast Bullock and Glennville set up the season showdown with Claxton.
The game was hard fought and Bradwell pulled out a 20-19 win. Only Savannah Country Day stood in the way of the region title.
That Monday, Coach Jackson called the team together and startled everyone. He suspended seven starters because they had violated a team rule and not ridden the bus home from the Claxton game. They included a starting running back, quarterback and a star defensive player. They would not play in Savannah.
That week of practice was living hell. Everyone, including suspended players, worked out. All dressed out on Friday night for the game against Savannah Country Day, a team the Lions defeated 29-7 the year before. The stands were packed. BI fans were hoping for a miracle. It never came. The seven didn’t play. The Lions fell 6-O.
I learned later the defensive player, though he had never drank before, got drunk and went to Coach Jackson’s house to confront him. The coach put him to bed, called his parents and took him home the next day.
Two years ago, my wife Jennifer and I took the coach and Mrs. Jackson to breakfast. He talked a lot of football and finally got around to that game.
“You know Fuss,” he said, “I could have just given those players grass drills and extra work. But what they did was wrong and I had to make them see that it’s about more than X’s and O’s, that life is hard and not always fair.”
Several years ago, I wrote a story for the Courier about that star defensive player. He had gone on to be a hero in Vietnam, where he lost a leg. He said had it not been for the hard lesson from the coach he wasn’t sure he would have pulled though.
The truth is coach Jackson was the hardest coach I ever knew and the biggest winner.