By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — Lynon Jefferson remembers watching the Effingham County-South Effingham football game as a high school freshman.
And he played a key role for the Rebels in the rivalry game the next three years.
“Oh no, they didn’t beat us then,” said Jefferson, a hint of modesty trailing his voice.
The Rebels and Mustangs hook up Friday night at The Corral in the annual battle of the county’s two high schools which kicked off in 1996 — the year South Effingham was formed from the split of Effingham County High School.
ECHS comes into the game with a 2-1 record and has won 15 of the 27 meetings with South.
SEHS is 1-2 overall this season but should be excited after a wild 33-30 win over Wayne County before last week’s bye.
Jefferson, now the Rebels assistant head coach and wide receivers coach, has a first-hand understanding of the emotions that go into the rivalry week.
“Personally, it’s one of the traditions you always remember for the rest of your life,” Jefferson said. “When I played, it was such a surreal thing. My uncle, Dr. Franklin Goldwire, was the principal at South Effingham and I was at Effingham County. It was kind of ‘I wanted to show him up a little bit.’ Seeing people getting hyped for the game made it special.”
Jefferson, a running back, was the region’s Player of the Year during his senior year in 2002.
He earned a scholarship to Georgia Southern University and was a perfect fit at slotback for the Eagles’ powerful triple-option offense. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and averaged more than 10 yards a touch until a shoulder injury limited his playing time his final two seasons.
Jefferson returned to Effingham County and has been a loyal assistant for 10 years.
“The kids like hearing stuff like that — a coach who’s coaching me actually played football,” Jefferson said. “Some kids don’t connect that and they’re thinking, ‘Here’s an old man telling me what to do.’
“But I played on the same football field. I put on the same shoulder pads. I’ve walked the trails to and from practice. I’ve walked the same hallways. They see that and it’s like, ‘OK, I can relate to coach.’ ”
Jefferson hopes he can also relay the need to be prepared in a rivalry. As a player, his teams beat South 39-14 (during his sophomore year), 14-3 (as a junior) and 34-14 (as a senior).
But eatching as a freshman …
That game in 1999 still sticks out in his mind. Chris Johnson, now on the ECHS coaching staff, was the South Effingham offensive coordinator.
In the final minute, Johnson dialed up a hook-and-ladder play. The Mustangs quarterback completed a short hitch pass to a receiver who then lateralled to speedster Jabari Scott.
“You couldn’t see anything but heels (as Scott ran down the sidelines for the touchdown) and we were going crazy,” Johnson said. “He scored and that won the game (35-28). It was an opportunity that presented itself at that time and it worked. It was a football memory just about everyone remembers.”
The Rebels won the year before 42-0.
ECHS has had its share of memorable nights as well and the unpredictability of the series only reinforced Rebels’ first-year coach John Ford’s message at practice.
“Emotion carries the day (in rivalry games),” Ford said. “This will be an unbelievable atmosphere for our kids, for our school and our community and we have to make sure we’ve done a good job preparing.”