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An Inside Look In The Tradition Rich Abbeville Program

Publishers Note: The article on the rich tradition of Abbeville football, printed in the publication earlier on Wednesday morning, and put in the mail to our subscribers/sponsors/schools, was an earlier "unedited" version of the unfinished 3,500 word article that took over a week to reserach and write. This story you are about to read is the edited- finished version. We deeply regret the 3 a.m error caused in a part by our fourth straight 18 hour work day. The story was completed and sent to final production at 3:45 in the morning. Once the honest mistake was discovered by the Publsiher at 10:30 Wednesday morning,  arrangements were made between the HSSR and the Herald Publishing Group in Dillon to re-print 200 corrected coipies for the players and fans of Abbeville football. We thank "Lori" at the Herald Publishing Group along with Mr. Jim Hill for agreeing to re-plate the press for the corrected copies.    

An Inside Look In The Tradition Rich Abbeville Program  

“The Drive For Five Is Very Alive”

By Billy G. Baker

Publisher

Abbeville—In the 103 years of organized SCHSL football in the state of South Carolina no team has ever won five consecutive state championships. Never…..a.k.a. not once, but to be determined by whom and when?

Not even those great Summerville teams of dynasty maker John McKissick, with a 47- game win streak between 1978-80 could achieve five straight football championships. Nor did those talent laden teams at Woodruff, molded into greatness by the legendary Willie Varner, falling just short with the Wolverines claiming four straight football titles in the 1980’s. Even the great Bobby Bentley, perfecter of those awesomely talented “Air Raid” teams at Byrnes, came up short winning four straight titles in the first decade of this century. 

Finally, just three years ago, tradition rich Dillon, led by Hall of Fame coach Jackie Hayes failed by a mere two points to win an unprecedented 5th straight state title in 2016 when Chapman spoiled the Wildcats desire to make history. Not even revered coaches like Shell Dula, Pinky Babb, Keith Richardson, Bill Tate, Jewell McLaurin, Ray Stackley, or Phil Strickland ever coached up teams to win five straight gold medal final rounds. 

Yes, heck yes; it could finally happen on the first Friday night in December at Benedict College when the top ranked AA Abbeville Panthers (59-1-1) over the past five seasons including being winners of four straight state titles between 2015-18 hope to be in the finals. Can the Panthers and their legions of supporters have their own dance with history?  They hope for a successful run in the playoffs, as they seek to become the first team ever in the Palmetto state to accomplish a feat that has eluded so many great teams, coached by many great teachers like the aforementioned.  

Before the Home Coming game with Saluda there is a class reunion gathering in the parking lot and we say hello again to former Abbeville quarterback Tombo Hite. The stadium is named after his grandfather who once coached in Abbeville. Hite is now a lawyer in town. “Coach Botts taught me as much about being a man, and a good father, and a good husband as he did about being a football player,” said Hite. “He was tough and disciplined and it rubbed off on the players he was working with.  Those were some great memories of my father setting up every afternoon to watch practices my senior year.”

Inside the coaches office before the game with Saluda “Fire Chief” Mason sits quietly getting his game face on. He is a 1960 graduate of Abbeville and a close follower of the team. “We can accept a loss every now and then if we know the players gave it their all, but we hate to lose.” he said. “We want to make history this year. These players and coaches have worked hard, and they deserve it. The fans deserve it too.”       

Abbeville will begin the 2019 playoffs against Lewisvlle. “Lewisville has been playing well the past two weeks and they have a very athletic quarterback who runs very well,” said Coach Nickles. “We are expecting a big crowd in Hite Stadium and the place should be filled with excitement and I hope the team plays well.”

Coach Nickles is assisted by Wayne Botts, Tony Temple, Doug Belcher, Eddie Ford, Rex Pelfrey, Ellis Belton, Tim Collins, Shane Cox, Toquavius Gilchrist, Tad DuBose and Mark Smith. The school Principal is Dr. Charles Costner.

Two weeks ago, the HSSR ventured once again into historic Abbeville where a packed crowd in Hite Stadium, showcased 49 well-coached and hard charging Panther players as they beat a very respectable Saluda team 28-7 to clinch yet another region title.  In gaining over 450 rushing yards on 55 carries the Panthers were led by running back Tyrell Haddon’s 165- yards rushing, including a 75- yard scoring run. Haddon also caught two passes for 73 yards including a 50- yard touchdown strike right down the middle from quarterback J.D. Moore. Moore added 96 yards on 16 carries and two rushing touchdowns. Panther running back Martico Jackson added 166 yards on 18 carries as Abbeville dominated on the ground. My, this team likes to line up and pound you!

After the win that clinched yet another region title head coach Jamie Nickles sat in his office with this reporter for 30 minutes talking some about the past but with total focus on the future. “I really thought our kids came to play tonight,” said Coach Nickles, after the win over Saluda. “We had a good week of practice and you always worry about the distractions of Homecoming. This was one of our better games on both sides of the ball all season.”

Nickles became the head coach at Abbeville in 2004. Coach Nickles has led Abbeville to six state titles as the head coach. He was also a player on a state title team at Abbeville in 1981 and he won a state title as an assistant coach under his mentor Dennis Botts. “This was one of our better games but on defense we gave up a lot of big plays,” said Coach Nickles.  “At times we would bend but not break. We’ll work on some things we need to correct. All-in-all I thought it was a good team effort, a good team win.”

The game with Saluda highlighted some exceptional plays. Panther Shrine Bowl outside linebacker Jhalyn Shuler ripped the ball out of a Saluda receivers’ hand returning it for a 20-yard touchdown that gave Abbeville a 21-7 lead after Dylan’s Beauford’s third PAT of the night. “Jalynn has made plays like that throughout his career,” said Coach Nickles. “He has offers from Georgia State and Coastal Carolina right now and East Carolina has been in touch.”

Coach Nickles also said QB/RB and defensive back J.D. Moore was a very under recruited player who is a good team leader. “The one player whom we feel has been over-looked is Moore who helps us on offense as both a running back and a quarterback,” said Coach Nickles. “He can also go in on defense and make some big plays for us as everyone saw tonight. He is not little, but he is not tall either, but he is really fast, and we feel like he could help a college program.”

The four team captains include senior center Connor Nickles, Shuler, defensive lineman Carson Smith and Moore.  Nickles, junior OL Davis Sutherland, and USC OL commitment and Shrine Bowler Trai Jones (6-3, 265) are true road graders on a veteran offensive line. Senior Davon Bowie is the fourth starter back in the offensive trenches who started on a 15-0 team last year.  Three-year starter De’Michael Johnson is also back up-front to give Abbeville one of the top lines in the state.             

 

After his game with Abbeville Saluda head coach Stewart Young told the HSSR, ““To beat a good team like Abbeville you must win field position and have no turnovers. When you don’t bring it every down against them, they stack their defense and find ways to shut you down. They are a great team.”

Abbeville closed out a perfect regular season one week later with a 56-0 win over Ninety-Six. In that game Moore scored on a 74-yard touchdown run, Navi Marshall gained 90 yards on 11 carries in a reserve role, and starter Martiico Jackson had 63 yards on just five carries including a 41-yard touchdown run. Haddon only had three carries for 58 yards and a 40-yard scoring run.

“We got our first string out pretty early and let our reserves have some playing time,” said Coach Nickles. “Ninety-Six couldn’t stop us in the first half and we had a big lead by halftime.”

   Abbeville has been tested in two very close games this season. They won a 10-7 weather shortened game with Lincoln County, Ga early in the season. Then they slipped past region rival Southside Christian 14-10 in the mid-season. “We played Southside Christian at home and we felt lucky to have won that game,” said Coach Nickles. “They have a great quarterback and a great running back and if we meet in the playoffs it is going to be a highly competitive game, I promise you.”

Tony Temple was a former player at Abbeville between 1990-1993 and he is married to Dennis Botts’s daughter. “Dennis Botts was my father-in-law and he taught me so much about the game of football,” he said. “He taught us the old school ways and the hard knocks of high school football. He taught you to play with great effort and he wanted you to be physical. He was all about accountability.

“What I try to instill in my own son, who is on this team, is to be the hardest working player on the team and to play with passion and be physical and to also be coachable. These were some of the things Coach Botts instilled in me and all the players he coached up,” said Coach Temple.

Tad DuBose is a former player for Coach Botts also and he is the defensive coordinator at Abbeville. “People might not believe this, but we do not preach winning,” said Coach Dubose. “We ask our players to go out and play hard and leave it all on the field and let the chips fall where they may. Win or lose, we are going across the field and shake the hands of our opponent’s.”

Coach DuBose said football is teaching young men about life more than anything else. “I hope that any young man who comes through our program understands that first and foremost we want to help build them into young men of Christ. The other stuff that comes along with it is just fine, but this is the goal of our program. We have bible studies and weekly devotions with our young men. I encourage them all the time, and just a few weeks ago we had five young men on the team give their lives to Christ.

“You don’t have to go to church to get religion because a lot of what our kids need, they can get right in our locker room. When you have five young men stand up and accept Christ, whether you win a football game or not that week doesn’t matter. This is the ultimate driving force in our program right now and we are thankful Coach Nickles opens this vessel to us. It is awesome that his coaching staff is real tight knit. You have six guys on this staff who could all be head coaches somewhere else, but we hang around for a greater purpose.

“So many of us bled in the same stadium when we were players and these players are bleeding in the same stadium now,” said Coach DuBose. “We have a special little town here in Abbeville. Not a lot of little towns have what we have, and we don’t take it lightly, or for granted. When we put on those gold helmets with the big “A” displayed we know that we are representing something bigger than ourselves. We are playing for that “A” each and every time we go out and play.”

If the moment comes, and history is made, what will Coach DuBose feel in the moment. “I honesty do not think about it at all,” said Coach DuBose. “If it happens, I will be excited for our players, but we have a ways to go before we can worry about what might happen.”

Connor Nickles has been on the varsity football team all four years of his career. “We have all been playing football together since most of us were 8 years old,” said Nickles. “We are like a band of brothers and this is what happens when you grow up in small towns. Most of our players have been together for a long time and we all grew up wanting to play for the Abbeville Panthers.”

 Nickles is the proud son of the head coach. “We have a great relationship on and off the field and I promise you he treats me like all the other players on the team,” said Nickles. “He is always encouraging me to work hard and stay focused.”

Connor said he loves being a leader. “I love the physical contact of football and I love to compete,” he said. “I make all the calls in the offensive line and I take my responsibilities as a senior leader seriously.”

Connor has already accepted a walk-on offer to The Citadel. “I love the military and I want to get contracted out to the Army after I graduate from The Citadel,” said the younger Nickles. “Now that the playoffs have started, we are just now getting focused on the drive for five. Everyone in the community is fired up. We know it is a one game season every week and we are focused on each game, but it is something that all our fans are talking about.”

Carson Smith is a key player on defense and has earned a spot on the North-South all-star team this year. “I remember being 10 years old and watching a player named Gilchrist at defensive end for the Panthers and I learned so much watching him play,” said Smith. “All of the players on this team are the same way because we all grew up hoping we would one day get the chance to wear those gold helmets with the Big “A” on the sides.”

Smith said that before the ball is hiked, he is reading his keys to see which lineman pull and in which direction they are headed. “We have some of the best coaches around and they teach us what to do and what to look for,” he said. “I just love to play the game and I love to compete.”

On offense quarterback JD Moore has been strong all year and he comes into the playoffs having rushed for 1,033 yards on 105 carries and 11 touchdowns. Running back Marico Jackson is not far behind with 927 yards on 108 carries with 7 touchdowns. Tyrell Haddon has 410 yards on 31 carries and six scores. Two-way player Cruz Temple has rushed for 294 yards on 45 carries and he has chipped in with five touchdowns,

Thomas Beauford also plays quarterback a good bit and he has completed seven of 10 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Moore has completed four out of five passes he has thrown, and Haddon has caught four passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

The offensive line also has key leaders Trai Jones (6-3, 265) who has committed to South Carolina. “He’s very strong and very quick and when we run left, we are running right behind him,” said Coach Nickles. “He runs in the 4.7 to 4.8 range which is super quick for a big guy.”

The other leader in the trenches is DeMichael Johnson along with end Ean Laughlin. Ar’Darius Burton also leads by example.

Mark Smith is the offensive coordinator for the Panthers.  “It starts up-front for us,’ said Coach Smith. “We have Nickles at center and he makes all our checks and calls and there is probably not a front out there he hasn’t seen. We have Jones who is going to South Carolina and he is 6-2, 280 and he runs a 4.6. and he bench presses 360 pounds.  

De’Michael Johnson has been starting  in the line since his sophomore year.  Davon Bowie and tight end Ean Laughlin are also two experienced linemen.Junior Davis Sutherland is a right guard and gets after it well too," said CoachSmith. "All of these linemen have been in a lot of battles.”

Coach Smith said the Abbeville running backs are called wing backs and the power runner is called the “A” back. The “A” back, Jackson or Moore, is down as the wing back but Moore is often the Wildcat a lot also. Junior Thomas Beauford is listed as the starting quarterback and you never know when Moore is going to shift over to the Wildcat slot. Cruz Temple comes in as a either a wing or “A” back when a bigger back is needed, he is an excellent blocker too.”

Coach DuBose talked about the defense and he said it starts up-front as well. “Ar’Darius Burton is our big bone nose tackle up-front and he weighs about 320 pounds and moves extremely well,” said Coach DuBose. “Another tackle is Ami’Leon Mattison along with our defensive end Carson Smith and he has recently been offered by Lenoir-Rhyne and Newberry.

“Our other defensive end is Demariris Hill and he is 6-3 and 265 pounds along with Demetrius Harris and he is 6-4 and 320 pounds,” said Coach DuBose. “Malachi Wilson also come in along the defensive front on occasion.”

The inside linebackers are led by junior Luke Evans, and senior Joc Norman and they are backed up by Seth Griffin. His nick name is “pitt bull” because he weighs about 130 pounds and gets after you.  The outside linebackers are led by Shrine Bowler Jhalyn Shuler (6-2, 205). “Jaalyn is long and physical and he likes contact and he has been a three-year starter for us,” said Coach DuBose. Shuler has offers from Georgia Southern and Georgia State among others. Another outside backer is freshman Ty Cade (6-0, 220) who plays a lot.

In the secondary the cover safety is Cruz Temple while Haddon and Jeremiah Lomax are defensive backs. Quadarius Guillebeaux is a talented defensive back with closing speed.

Dyland Beauford has been a four- year combo kicker for the Panthers and he can punt for a 40-yard average and most of his kicks go into the end zone. “He has hit a 52 yarder, but he has made a 48 yarder in a game,” said Coach DuBose.  

After the big win over Saluda Coach Nickles talks about his days as a player in 1981 when he played as a back-up on a state championship team for Coach Botts. He went on to Lander College after he graduated from Abbeville as an all-region tackle. “Lander had a great coaching major and that is what I knew I wanted to be,” said Coach Nickles.

His first coaching job was at Greenwood for five years with Willis Burkett. Then is the late 1990’s he returned home to Abbeville to be an assistant under Coach Botts. “Dennis Botts was the master of relationships and he taught me how to deal with players,” said Coach Nickles. “He taught me a lot about football, but he was a strong people person with strong people skills.

"I am just as close with my third string guard as I am with our first string Shrine Bowler," said Coach Nickles. "Communication is very important. All our players have to know we care about them as people too. This game of football we coach is a like bigger then a final score on Friday night. Coaching football is our opportunity to be difference makers."   

Coach Nickles said his coaching staff is like one big family and that everyone gets along. He grew up taking 22 pennies with the heads being the offensive players and tails were the defense. “I played a football game with those pennies for hours growing up,” said Coach Nickles. “I didn’t have any video games.”

Coach Nickles, a 2019 Shrine Bowl assistant, said that he is not a rah, rah guy and he doesn’t get hyped up at all. “When it is all said and done, I want to hear about the young men in our program becoming good citizens and good fathers and good husbands one day. That is my reward for being in the coaching profession. I believe in staying in the moment.

“If we win or lose at some point this season I will just except whatever happens and start working towards next year,” he said. “My mother was a huge Steve Spurrier fan and she loved it when he talked about coming to South Carolina where he was motivated by the challenge of doing things that had never been done before.

“So, if we win five in a row that will be nice, but we are more worried about the journey right now, on a week-to-week basis,” said Coach Nickles. “We know a team like Southside Christian is just right down the road.”

At half-time during Homecoming, Coach Nickles is seen on the field escorting Meg Botts in the homecoming court as he took the time to escort this outstanding granddaughter of Coach Dennis Botts.

“My father wanted to escort Meg because it was his way of honoring Coach Botts, a man who taught him how to play the game and a man who taught him a lot about coaching the game,” said son Connor. “Even though he was involved in a big game he took the time to escort Meg because it was important to him.”

It was all about the relationships and doing what was right.  Coach Botts was looking down surely proud of both of them.  Relationships matter; don’t they?   


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