If you asked most men of a certain age, regardless of race or creed, who helped shape, define them and prepare them for life, many would credit their fathers and mothers — rightly so.
However, those who may not have been blessed with strong parents likely would point to a coach. Especially in small communities, coaches can become an institution.
Former Bradwell Lions head football coach Hokey Jackson was that kind of institution. Playing baseball at the University of Georgia, he finished with a degree in education. He spent a year at Jesup High School, where his defense stopped Wright Bazemore’s Valdosta Wildcats’ 40-game win streak.
In 1957, Jackson came to Bradwell Institute to be head coach. To be a successful football coach in a small Southern town, you had to be part politician, tactician, evangelist, psychologist, motivator and everything in between. A coach also usually is a moral compass for the players, and you simply have to examine the quality of men that Jackson’s era produced.
Jackson created one of the strongest programs in South Georgia at a fairly rapid pace. He did so without the huge coaching staffs that smaller high schools have these days and with only rudimentary equipment.
Great athlete or not, grass drills are one of the great equalizers. The sand burns every time your fingertips hit it. Depending on your seniority, or need of a facemask, you could get your mouth full of Georgia dirt when you drop down. A quick blast of the coach’s whistle is followed by the collision of human and earth. It continues for what seems like an eternity to that 16-year-old player — but, in actual time, it’s only about 15 minutes.
Grass drills, gassers and the Oklahoma drill were just a few ways that coaches would get players prepared for Friday nights. All sports build character, but smash-mouth, gravel-in-your-guts football gives young men an opportunity to build skill sets to aid them in life and on the gridiron.
And Jackson certainly understood that.
As his Lions battled through three-a-day practices on a little water, the obligatory salt tablets and the infamous water towel, coupled with some athleticism and a can-do attitude, Jackson put Hinesville on the football map in Georgia. In 13 years at Bradwell Institute, Jackson was 96-36-6, including a state runner-up showing in 1964 and the Class B state championship in 1965.
Even more important was Jackson’s attention to the game and driving his players to be their absolute best. As those players found out that they had more in the tank, many received opportunities for higher education that they may not have had otherwise.
The skill sets players acquired during their time in the Bradwell program helped them achieve success on the gridiron and gave them the confidence and fortitude to make it through some arduous times and, certainly, the jungles of Vietnam. Those who played for Jackson and, later, head coach Clifford Johnson didn’t need life coaches, because they had coaches who truly cared about their lives.
You still could feel the presences of those great teams and coaches in the old Ed Edwards cinder-block field house. When the door would open, beams of sunlight would illuminate the 1965 state-championship plaque.
Jackson is as much a part of Liberty County as the Historic Midway Church. The life lessons he taught a generation of young men are visible throughout the county. Those same men have tried to give that same attention to teaching the game and life to their heirs the same way coach Jackson taught them.
Adding Hokey Jackson’s name to Bradwell’s stadium is the most fitting way to honor someone who meant so much to Liberty County, Hinesville and BI football. Olvey Field will remain a great tradition, just like Mr. Ed’s name on the field house.
The only thing missing is Hokey Jackson Stadium.
Wood has been a coach and teacher for 16 years and has spent most of the last decade teaching and coaching at Bradwell Institute. He is working on a book about the history of the BI football program.