Former Southeast Bulloch head football coach Fred Shaver keeps himself busy these days. If he’s not at his local Kiwanis club meeting, you can probably find him at church or running errands for his wife.
He lives a pretty humble lifestyle. But between the years of 1972 and 1973, Shaver became a Brooklet football coaching legend by taking a group of scrappy kids to the state playoffs and winning back-to-back state championships.
Between 1972-1973 the Southeast Yellow Jackets finished with a 24-0 record. After the ‘73 season Shaver retired, but the memories of his championship runs remain.
“We lost the state championship in 1971. We dominated that game. We had 18 first downs to their three,” Shaver said, reminiscing. “After the game, our kids said that they would be back and win it again and they did.”
However, despite the 19 winning seasons that followed, 1973 would be the last time the Yellow Jackets would win a state title or a state playoff game.
Since ‘73, SEB currently holds an 0-8 record in state playoff games. Forty-one years without a state playoff win.
“I was surprised that we haven't won one because we’ve had some pretty good teams,” Shaver said. “The year after I left I thought we had a real good team coming back.”
Southeast Bulloch’s football team started from humble beginnings in 1966. The team had set up a junior varsity program the year prior. 1966 was Shaver’s first year with the varsity squad. The team finished the season 0-10.
“The (players) didn’t even know how to put a uniform on back then,” Shaver said. “Our community was completely behind it and the parents supported the coaches. It was a total effort of the community, administration and the booster club and the school. It was just one of those things that don’t normally happen. When we started out we had a practice field and built what we call our football field.”
Shaver will always be a part of the Southeast Bulloch football community. He often attends practice after school and developed a close relationship with Yellow Jackets current head coach Pat Collins.
“I’ve known Fred Shaver for some time,” said Collins. “He was in charge of personnel and was helpful in getting me my first job as a math teacher and assistant football coach at Statesboro High School. We’ve developed a friendship that dates back all that time. He’s a dear friend and highly respected in the state. I’m honored to have him as a friend.”
At the beginning of the season, the seniors on this year’s SEB football team set out a goal to end the Yellow Jackets winless state playoff streak. After finishing the regular season 6-3 with a perfect 5-0 region record, the Yellow Jackets are just two wins from accomplishing their goal.
However, Collins said his team faces a tough task in defeating Appling County.
“I was proud of our seniors way back when they established that as a goal. SEB has not been in many state playoff games, but before we can even think about that, we have to win this region playoff game,” Collins said. “None of that matters if we don’t win this game.”
Appling certainly presents a formidable challenge for SEB. Southeast Bulloch is 0-3 against the Pirates.
“It’s playoff mindset period. It’s win and advance. If you don’t win you don’t advance. That’s the reality. They’ve been putting up a lot of points as of late,” Collins said.
The Yellow Jackets will be at home on Friday to take on the Pirates in the stadium aptly named after the school’s legendary coach.
Winning the state title was an unforgettable feeling for Shaver and his players. Shaver recalls a convoy of cars meeting the team on the way back from the game and escorting their charter bus to the school’s gymnasium.
“It was a big crowd for us (back then), and of course, the game this Friday night is huge for us and we think we’re going to reach our goal,” Shaver said.
For this year’s team, Shaver said he wanted to bring back an old tradition started by his players in the early ‘70s. During the Yellow Jackets championship run, his players asked if he would smoke a victory cigar if the team won a state title. Though he wasn’t a smoker, Shaver carried a victory cigar around until his team was crowned state champions.
If the Yellow Jackets win the next two games to break the streak, Shaver said he has something special in mind.
“I’ve got a big cigar to smoke after we win that game,” said Shaver, laughing.