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Mustangs coach expresses gratitude, discusses culture change at football awards banquet
Jake Shielke
Senior offensive lineman Jake Schielke does an impression of head coach Nathan Clark before giving him a team-autographed football during the Mustangs’ Dec. 13 awards banquet. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

GUYTON — Everyone who went along for the ride with South Effingham’s football team during the 2021 season had a moment in the spotlight during its Dec. 13 awards banquet. 

Head coach Nathan Clark voiced appreciation for every player, manager, statistician, assistant coach, coach’s wife, administrator, booster, fan, sponsor and local media member during his remarks. The focus was on the team in his opening comments, however.

“To me, football is about the journey,” Clark said, “and the journey doesn’t just start in August. It starts a long time before then and for this team, besides the freshmen, it all began last January.”

Clark said he talked with all the returning players from 2020 and sought their input about ways to improve.

“The number one thing that everybody said in common was, ‘Coach, we need to change the culture and the character of the football team’ — the attitudes,” Clark said. “We didn’t have what we wanted within and I thought we really hurt character-wise at this point last year so (improving on) that was our number one goal.”

Clark said the transformation began in the weight room.

“We really enforced this past year the phrase ‘Do right,’” Clark said. “... We talked about being positive, encouraging your teammates, because if the best players on your team are the best people, then you are going to have a pretty good football team. That’s what we tried to accomplish.

“We want the best players to be the best people.”

In order to achieve this goal, Clark and the team developed a leadership council to help it deal with challenges.

“The main thing we learned is that life isn’t easy. It isn’t’ fair,” Clark said. “It doesn’t matter if you work hard every single day and make the right choices, sometimes you are not going to have the results that you want — not immediately. They won’t always happen but, in time, if you continue to do the right thing and you have the right character, the right mindset and the right attitude something good will eventually happen.

“It’s going to happen for the guys on this team.”

The Mustangs struggled to a 2-8 mark in 2021, a one-game improvement over the previous year. There are plenty of reasons for optimism, however, including a class of more than 50 rising sophomores, many of whom saw playing time last fall. The 2022 schedule is also unlikely to include three state playoff semifinalists, including Class AAAA champion Benedictine.

“We’re going to have a better teams with the wins and losses,” Clark said.

Clark said there was plenty of good about the 2020 season despite the paucity of wins.

“In a strong house, you have to have a solid foundation,” he said. “I think we really worked on the foundation this year with our character, making good choices and having the right attitudes. Now I think it will roll over into the play on the field.

“... This was a fun group to be around and there was a lot accomplished on this journey. Moving forward, there will be a lot of great things to take place.”

Every player and manager received a certificate of participation. The senior players were also presented their letters, shadow boxes that included their jerseys and banner photos of them that were hung in The Corral.

The Mustangs’ All-Region 2-AAAAAA players were honored, including Offensive Player of the Year Cameron Edwards. Edwards, a senior, rushed for 1,093 yards and eight touchdowns. He also added 99 receiving yards.

South Effingham’s other all-region pick was punter/kicker Liam Rickman. Offensive lineman Peyton Beasley, athlete Joel Laldee, linebacker Louis Hicks, defensive lineman Matt Moore, defensive back Tyrik Guyton, linebacker William Christmas, defensive lineman Damyon McFarlin and defensive lineman Tanner Hughes earned honorable mention.

Edwards also received his award for winning the 2021 Lift-A-Thon, a test of strength and speed that is used as a team fundraiser. The memento resembles a WWE championship belt.

Clark also announced that Edwards and linebacker Louis Hicks were named the 912 Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively.

Numerous players from each were honored for their academic prowess.

Clark was the recipient of  a football autographed by everyone on the team. Before taking it, he watched offensive lineman Jake Shielke impersonate him.

“We are going to face a lot of adversity this year now,” Shielke said, drawing laughs from the audience. “If we just walk in and do right, we can do this.”

As another gag gift, the booster club gave the assistant coaches t-shirts with the worlds “Where’s Clark?” on them. Clark got one emblazoned with “I’m Clark.”