The Rabun County Wildcats have come a long way in the last five seasons and have reached the state quarterfinals for just the fourth time in program history. With a possible first ever trip to the semifinals on the line tonight, a six-hour bus ride to Sylvania doesn’t seem like much to add to that journey.
Tonight’s matchup at Screven County will be the first ever meeting between the schools, but Rabun County might have an idea of the kind of environment to expect thanks to one of its assistant coaches. Lee Shaw heads up the Wildcats and is assisted by his son, Jaybo, who played quarterback at Georgia Southern for two years before starting his coaching career as a grad assistant with the Eagles.
“It’s going to be good to come back,” Shaw said. “I remember a lot of good times around here. I also know that the fans for Southern and any high school in the area take their teams seriously. It’s going to be a crazy environment and we’re excited to be a part of it.”
While Jaybo played his high school football under his father at Flowery Branch, the turnaround at Rabun County has been a point of family pride.
Lee Shaw played his high school ball for the Wildcats before moving away to make his bones as a head coach. He headed up White County for five years and reached a state final and semifinal over his 10 seasons at Flowery Branch before heading back home.
The Wildcats had gone just 7-43 in the five seasons preceding Shaw’s return, only to see things take an immediate turn for the better. Rabun County went 6-4 in Shaw’s first year, improved to 8-2 in 2013, and has posted a 36-3 regular season record since while claiming each of the last four Region 8-AA championships.
“It definitely means a little more to be doing it for the school you’re from,” Jaybo Shaw said. “I remember when I was playing at Flowery Branch, the coaches did a pick’em every week. And every week, Rabun County was a game on there and my dad was pulling for them and checking up on them.
“Now that he’s back, I know it means a little more to be winning here. He’s excited to be doing it for the community and everyone is pitching in to help make us a success.”