What a year. I'm so glad it ended the way it did against Bradwell (Institute).South Effingham head coach Nathan Clark
GUYTON — The South Effingham Mustangs and their most ardent supporters consumed heaping plates of shrimp and piles of memories during the team’s annual football awards banquet Jan. 13.
After being treated to the seafood, plus sausage and other tasty items prepared by The Shell House, head coach Nathan Clark served the dessert — his recollection of the Mustangs’ sweetest moments during a challenging 2020 season.
“What a year,” Clark said. “I’m so glad that it ended the way it did against Bradwell (Institute).”
Hindered by COVID-19 and injuries, South Effingham lost its first nine games before topping the Tigers 28-14 in the season finale in Hinesville.
“That night could not have gone any better,” Clark said. “We all came together as a team and we ended the season with a win.”
Clark recited a litany of crucial plays in that contest.
“Malcolm (Brown) scoring on a two-point conversion. I never thought anything like that would happen,” Clark said. “The defense having two three and outs — they only had six plays there.
“Liam (Rickman) executed a perfect onside kick. I’m not sure why we didn’t get it to go our way.
“(Brayden) Bell scored on a reverse. Aiden Purser caught a huge pass on third down from a freshman quarterback.
“And we celebrated on the field and took pictures all night until they ran us out (of Olvey Stadium). I thought it was so much fun to end the way that we ended.”
Clark then mentioned some of the changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We introduced the Zoom (meeting),” he said. “‘Quarantine’ is a real word and it takes place all the time. We had no spring football practice and we had to learn how to reacclimate with the football team.
“We learned about Clorox sprayers. (We worked) in small groups this summer. We had to reschedule games again and again and again and again and again and again and again, and it ended up forcing us to play eight teams that made the playoffs. Six of those teams advanced (to the second round) so we had an extremely tough schedule, but we stayed with it.
“We had virtual workouts. We even had (college) signing days last year in people’s front yards, so there was a lot that we went through.”
Clark then recounted a few off-the-field improvements to his program.
“This year, we also learned how to use Dragonfly (an athlete-centered medical records platform),” he said. “We saw the field get painted with a paint robot — the turf tank. Our weightroom received a nice, new paint job.
“We got three new TVs in there, a new computer. We scored nice new uniforms with the cardinal top, the white pants and the while helmets.
“And we learned how to play football without throwing a forward pass.”
The Mustangs implemented the single-wing formation in their fifth game. The move was made after quarterback Alex Cela suffered a broken collarbone the previous week against Effingham County, seriously curtailing the Mustangs’ passing threat.
“I think next year we are going to try to throw the ball a little bit more,” Clark joked.
Clark spent a moment discussing some reasons for optimism about his team’s future.
He said, “Our strength numbers — they improved dramatically throughout the semester thanks to hard work amongst the boys in the weightroom and Coach (Michael) Pfiester having some good workouts ready and really getting on them to make sure they did well. Our team average for the three-rep squat is 312 pounds. Our deadlift average jumped over 50 pounds this first semester and the team average on the two-rep bench max is now over 200 pounds.”
Later during the banquet, players were recognized for their weightlifting exploits.
“One thing you have to factor in is that a good chunk of our team is freshmen,” Clark said. “You have to factor in that they have not lifted weights quite as much and that really says an awful lot. I am really excited about the future.”
The Mustangs featured 57 freshmen when the season ended and the junior varsity ended its campaign with a three-game win streak.
Clark thanked the players and their parents for raising $35,000 for the team’s annual Dash-for-Groceries fundraiser. He also expressed gratitude to the Effingham County Board of Education, system administrators, school administrators and teachers, the booster club, his assistant coaches, the coaches’ wives and many others for their support.
The players showed appreciation for their coach, too. Larry Scott presented Clark a football signed by the seniors.
“We just want to thank you for all you’ve done for us, for coming out here last year and helping us to have that winning season and have something that we didn’t have before as a group,” Scott said. “We just want to thank you for always being there for us and being the great coach that you are.”
The Mustangs qualified for the Class AAAAA playoffs in 2019, finishing with a 6-5 record in Clark’s first season. The team had won just four of its previous 32 games.
Clark also received a Georgia Bulldogs hoodie from the booster club. It was a gag gift because the coach is an Alabama graduate.
Each senior player and trainer received a framed Mustangs jersey. Awards were also presented for academic and on-the-field accomplishments.