Most people agree that a sports dynasty has to include at least two championships, as well as multiple championship appearances over a short span of years.
20 years ago the Statesboro football team advanced to the state championship for the first time in over 30 years. The Blue Devils went on to win the state title in 2001, and then played for the state championship in three of the next four seasons, winning it again in 2005.
Five state championship appearances in six years is an accomplishment that is unprecedented in Bulloch County football, and will probably never happen again. In that six year span the Blue Devils overall record was 76-9-1. From 1999-2013 the Blue Devils went to the state playoffs 15 straight years.
When head coach Howard “Buzz” Busby came to Statesboro in 1999 the Blue Devils were coming off a 3-7 season, and had only made the postseason in two of the seven previous years.
Busby’s first agenda was putting together the best coaching staff he could find. He hired Steve Pennington as defensive coordinator, and Kenny Tucker as offensive coordinator. Other coaches on defense included Herbert Hodges, Mitch Nobles, Jack Webb and Cecil Leonard. On offense the rest of the staff was Patrick Hill, Mike Yawn, Matt Smith, Ken LeCain and Chad Roberts.
“Putting that coaching staff together was huge,” Busby said. “It was important to have some people from this area on the staff, and I was really impressed by Jack Webb when I interviewed him. Kenny Tucker had stepped away from coaching football, but I was happy I was able to talk him into heading up my offense. Mike Yawn was another one I felt like we needed to help our offensive line. "
The second thing Busby implemented was an intense weight lifting, and strength and conditioning program.
“When I took over we didn’t have a single player who could bench 300 pounds,” Busby said. “When we won the championship in 2001 we had 31 players who could bench press over 300 pounds. There weren’t many teams stronger than us by 2001.”
As for the philosophy on offense and defense, Busby utilized a wishbone offense, and on defense a four man front.
“In putting the team together I felt like you needed the top two athletes to be your running backs,” Busby said. “From there most of the athletic talent went to the defensive side of the ball, especially the defensive line. Many teams start with quarterback, and work from there. We just needed an intelligent quarterback who could think on his feet. Being athletic or having a strong arm were more like icing on a cake.”
The first year Busby took over the Blue Devils improved to 8-3 and lost a heartbreaker in the first round of the state playoffs at Worth County 22-14.
“We really should have won that game at Worth County,” Tucker said. “We went to overtime with them, and they ran the kickoff back for a touchdown. The guy stepped out of bounds, but it wasn’t called. That really gave the kids an idea of how good they could be.”
The Blue Devils lost the opening game of the 2000 season to Swainsboro, but then reeled off 13 straight victories before losing to Shaw in the state championship game.
“Winning games in the state playoffs was so important,” Pennington said. “We beat Tucker in the quarterfinals by penetration, and then went to the Georgia Dome for the first time, and knocked off a number one seed in Creekside 20-12. The state championship game was played in wet cold conditions, and we didn’t fare too well against a talented Shaw team, but it made the kids even more hungry to get back.”
The following year the Blue Devils ripped through their first nine opponents with ease, outscoring them by an average of 47-5. The only real competition came in the regalue season finale as they hung on for a 28-24 victory over Thomson.
“Not many people gave us much of a battle that year,” Tucker said. “That Thomson team was coached by Luther Welsh, and may have been the best team we played all year. We really thought we’d see them again in the state championship game, but they ended up losing to Dalton.”
The Blue Devils continued their dominance throughout the state playoffs with their closest game being a 17-0 victory over Troup County in the semifinals in the Georgia Dome. Capping things off was a 51-13 demolition of Dalton in the state championship, before a packed house at Womack Field.
“That game was over before the end of the first quarter,” Tucker said. “We scored on the opening drive, we kicked off and recovered a fumble and scored again. Chester McBride - God rest his soul - then intercepted a pass, and we scored again. It was 21-0 before the end of the first.”
“The group of seniors we had on that team came together as sophomores,” Pennington said. “This was their senior year, and that was a special group. The opportunity to go 15-0, and do it in front of your hometown fans was something they were not going to be denied.”
“To give you an idea of the kind of commitment we had from the 2001 team I remember what happened the day of the state championship,” Pennington said. “We maxed out in the weight room every Friday, and on the day of the state championship game, you can understand if some players wanted the day off. Everyone was in the weight room, and we had over 40 players go up on their max totals on that last day.”
The Statesboro Herald will continue our look back on the Statesboro High School football dynasty next week as we highlight the seasons from 2002 through the 2005 championship.