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ECHS seniors have their moments in the spotlight

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD – A Savannah high school basketball coach often talked about his program as if its season’s journey was a bus trip.

Freshmen and sophomores, he said, come along for the ride.

Juniors begin to take ownership and make their move to the front of the bus.

Seniors? They’ll drive the bus, he’d say.

During the 2023-24 school year, Effingham County seniors navigated key moments to make it a memorable year in sports.

Here are five Rebel seniors whose accomplishments we’ll remember long after they graduate.

Nate Hayes – Hayes was a three-sport athlete, but stood out on the football field, starting his last two seasons at quarterback and helping the Rebels win a region title in 2023 for the first time in 28 years.

Hayes, a dual threat, threw 1,562 yards and 13 touchdowns and ran for another 492 yards and six scores to earn the Region 2-6A Offensive Player of the Year honor.

Throughout his athletic endeavors, Hayes kept academics in the forefront. He was the student council president, won the school’s Highest Average Award in all core subjects and was valedictorian at graduation.

With blended excellence in athletics and academics, Hayes was a finalist in the National High School Heisman award. He’ll attend Georgia Tech in the fall with hopes of earning a degree in biomedical engineering.

Emma Reynolds
Third baseman Emma Reynolds earned Region 2-6A Softball Player of the Year honors while helping the Rebels win 26 games and advance to Columbus for a second straight year. (Mark Lastinger for the Effingham Herald.)
Emma Reynolds – Reynolds finished her ECHS softball career by hitting .417 with 16 doubles, eight home runs and 39 runs batted in and captured the Region 2-6A Player of the Year award in a voting of region coaches.

But one of Reynolds’ last swings might be remembered for a long time. Her seventh-inning home run off South Effingham standout pitcher Bailey Kendziorski tied their elimination game (eventually won by the Mustangs) in the Elite Eight state championship tournament in Columbus.

In Reynolds’ final two seasons, the Rebels won 53 games and advanced to Columbus twice. Emma, a third baseman, signed with South Carolina Beaufort and will have a chance to play with her sister, Addie.


A. J. Butts
AJ Butts (No. 1) and his Effingham County teammates celebrated many good moments en route to the school's first region football championship since 1995. (File photo.)
Antonio “AJ” Butts – The Calvary Day transfer was the missing ingredient ECHS needed to win a football region title for the first time since 1995.

Butts combined power and speed to help at running back on offense and linebacker on defense en route to earning the Region 2-6A Player of the Year honor from league coaches and first-team, all-state accolades from the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association.

Butts led the team with 618 rushing yards, nine touchdowns and 61 tackles before suffering a season-ending injury in the regular-season finale against Brunswick.

The injury didn’t prevent Mercer University from offering a scholarship.


Faith Strickland – The ECHS girls lacrosse team had a record-setting season led by its first-team All-Area goalie, who was among the state’s top four in save percentage during the regular season, according to MaxPreps.

Strickland relied on quick reflexes and keen anticipation to stop nearly 61 percent of opposing team’s shots. She was at her best in a nearly flawless performance against South Effingham, when she turned aside 13 of 14 shots on goal in a 6-1 victory.

With Strickland leading the way, the Rebels defeated Richmond Hill for the first time in school history and gave Midtown a tussle in the first round of the state championships.

Strickland signed with Lander University.

Murphy Boyett – A big outside hitter who added all-around skills during her final year with the Rebels, Boyett keyed a volleyball program that won 25 games in the fall and advanced to the Class 6A state tournament.

Boyett, who signed with LaGrange College, was a first-team all-region performer who led the team with 245 kills (2.8 per set) and was second on the team with 198 digs.

Boyett blossomed the previous year, helping ECHS to its first region volleyball title since 2016.