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Effingham County football, basketball find common ground during summer
Keion Wallace
Rebels receiver Keion Wallace runs past Bradwell Institute’s Nigel Trim (16) after catching a pass in a 2019 game in HInesville. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD — Specialization takes a backseat to diversification for Effingham County High School athletes and Rebels football coach John Ford and basketball coach Jake Darling say they don’t mind sharing participation.

And that leads to the peaceful co-existence of football and basketball in Springfield.

“We encourage our guys to play multiple sports because there are things you can learn in another sport that helps you in the game of basketball,” Darling said. “Football helps our guys be tougher. Football is a physical sport and we want our guys to be tougher on the basketball court.”

A more selfish coach wouldn’t be as accommodating. Darling has five starters returning from a team that won 18 games last season. All five — brothers Keion and Khiry Wallace, Caleb Williams, Ashley Thompson and Timmy Brown — will be playing football this fall.

Knowing injuries are part of the game, Darling will be holding his breath on Friday nights like a coach with a six-point lead watching a game-ending Hail Mary.

“Because football is more physical, there is more chance of being injured and that worries me,” Darling said. “But we tell the guys don’t play scared, don’t play not to get injured, because that’s just when you’ll be injured.”

There’s a flip side. There are high risks for Keion Wallace, a rising junior wide receiver who has been drawing Division I football attention. But Keion equally loves basketball and he’s pretty good at it, earning co-Region 2-AAAAAA Player of the Year honors last season.

“I love watching all of them on the basketball court,” Ford said. “I might be one of their biggest fans. It’s not a rivalry. At the end of the day, we (the coaches) will work together. We both want what’s best.”

All five basketball starters play wide receiver and defensive back in football, although Keion Wallace and Thompson could line up among the front seven (defensively) because of their size.

“The footwork, the cuts, the lateral movement, the vertical movement of basketball helps on the football field particularly for the wide receivers and defensive backs,” Darling said.

Ford pointed to communication skills that transcend both sports.

“You have to talk to each other on the basketball court and you have to talk in football,” Ford said.

During the summer, the practice schedule sounds demanding. Monday through Thursday, football players arrive at ECHS at 7:45 a.m. to lift weights. After finishing in the weight room, they go outside (in helmets and shorts) to run plays.

Practice ends at about 11. Basketball players eat and rest for an hour before heading to the gym at noon for basketball workouts.

“In the summer, we don’t put them through full-fledged (basketball) practices,” Darling said. “We know they’re getting their conditioning through football. We’ll go over our plays and schemes and strategy. We’ll work on fundamentals, maybe some shooting stuff and skills.”

Darling said occasionally conflicting schedules occur. Rebel basketball competed in a tournament at Long County this summer the same day football went to a camp at the University of South Carolina.

But that wasn’t a bad thing. Darling said his reserves got valuable playing time.

Darling might be counting on the reserves in the early part of the season because there’s often an overlap with the football state playoffs and the start of the basketball season.

The Class AAAAAA football postseason ends this year on Dec. 10. According to last season’s basketball schedule, the Rebels would have been without their football playing basketball starters for five games, including one region game.

“To some, it may seem beneficial if their season ends quickly, but I want football to win,” Darling said. “If they win in football, they get that taste of winning and it becomes easier to win in basketball and we want guys who are winners.”