By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
Effingham County’s 2021 football team and Rebels first-year coach John Ford made pretty good first impressions Friday night in a scrimmage at Wayne County.
ECHS, just a three-win team last season, scored 28 first-half points — two touchdowns coming from its opportunistic defense — during a 28-13 victory over the Yellow Jackets to conclude spring football practice.
“We were business-like in our approach and I was very grateful,” said Ford, who wanted to simulate game conditions in the 10th and final spring workout.
The players will get a week off for finals and graduation and then a second week off as summer vacation starts with a dead week in accordance with Georgia High School Association rules before starting back up June 7.
It should be a two-week break filled with happy memories. The Rebels offense scored on a 10-yard run by Colton Oglesby and a 65-yard pass play from Nate Hayes to Keion Wallace.
Matthew Ford started at quarterback and threw the ball well, John Ford said.
On defense, C.J. Reese and Khiry Wallace produced touchdowns on interception returns.
ECHS varsity surrendered only one Wayne touchdown. The second TD came against the Rebels junior varsity in the fourth quarter, Ford said.
“The defense was awesome. Give coach (Tommy) Gilstrap credit. The defensive line played well and the back seven was flying around making plays,” said Ford, who worked with Gilstrap at Roswell and Buford before bringing him to Springfield.
Ford, who took over for coach Buddy Holder in January, was reluctant to pinpoint ECHS’ surprise players of the spring.
“I don’t want to call out individuals because I could miss a couple,” he said. “These are great kids, who are going to fight and compete and they’ve been awesome to be around every day.”
Ford said he expects to see leaders emerge in the summer. Leadership, he said, can be taught.
“It’s like teaching anything else. You create structure, instill the concept, practice it and encourage and reward it,” Ford said. “You want honesty and open communication and it starts with me.”
So far, so good. Football building blocks began in the weight room and Ford said the Rebels have been working hard.
ECHS has struggled in recent years, missing the state playoffs in 2019 and 2020.
But a new year brings new enthusiasm and new optimism. The Rebels will be back on the practice fields four times a week throughout the summer except for another GHSA dead week during the week of July 4.
ECHS kicks off the 2021 season at home against Beaufort, S.C., on Aug. 27
“I think we have the pieces to do a lot of good things,” Ford said.