Boys will be boys until football turns them into men.
The subject of Thursday’s Laurens County Touchdown Club meeting at The Ridge was the November 30 game in Columbia between Clemson and South Carolina, but the way Tim Childers and J.D. Fuller framed the narrative was the rites of passage along the way.
Gaffney’s Childers, a Tiger strong safety, and Cross Hill’s Fuller, a Gamecock linebacker, are contemporaries. Childers played on Clemson’s first national championship team, in 1981, and Fuller made more tackles than anyone in Carolina history. They played together in the Shrine Bowl and apart in college.
While Childers was a senior at Gaffney High School, Clemson head coach Danny Ford gave himself the Upstate as recruiting territory and showed up unannounced to see Childers. It happened to be the day Childers and a few of his buddies “laid out of school,” also known as “playing hooky.” The latter is said to be derived from the Dutch hoekje, or “hide-and-seek.” Ford played it well.
Ford stopped off at the school for a visit and found that Childers was absent, so the legendary coach drove over to Childers’ house unannounced. There he found the Indians’ star playing poker with his friends.
Famously blunt – and not ready for prime time or touchdown clubs – Ford unleashed a fierce and profane tirade dwelling generally on the question “just what do you think you are doing?”
Ford reached into his pants pocket, retrieved all his change and dropped it on the kitchen table.
“Deal me in,” he said.
“Then he played four or five hands with us, cussed me out again and left,” Childers recalled.
It was a different time and not the last mistake Childers made, but it was one he learned from.
Fuller, who was playing on back-to-back state championship teams at Clinton then, almost went to Clemson, too, but while he was being recruited, head coach Charley Pell abruptly left for the University of Florida.
“I didn’t go to Clemson because I was worried about coaching stability,” Fuller said, “so I signed with Carolina and played for three coaches in four years.”
“You love it,” Childers said, “or else you wouldn’t play it because it’s so hard.”
Fuller’s high school coach, Keith Richardson, was in the audience, and Fuller talked about being a member of the only Clinton High teams to win state championships back to back (1977-78). He recited a list of Richardson’s famed “intangibles,” the slogans his teams recited and discussed in a classroom before every home game.
Any old nag can start, but it takes a thoroughbred to finish.
Fatigue makes cowards of us all.
If you won’t be beat, you can’t be beat.
Then Fuller added one he got from Carolina’s Richard Bell: “You’re only as good as your last play.”
Childers didn’t talk as much about the annual rivalry as he did about the respect players of the two teams had for each other.
Fuller said Columbia was farther from Cross Hill than the mileage suggested.
“I moved right after high school graduation,” he said. “It wasn’t like Cross Hill. I wanted to go work out, so I started running down the side of the road. A highway patrolman pulled up behind me. He asked me who I was, and I told him and said I was playing football for the University of South Carolina and just got there from Cross Hill.
“He said, ‘Listen, son, I don’t care where you’re from, but you can’t be running down I-20.”
The final regular, every-other-Thursday, meeting of the year played out amid GameDay sponsorship from Laurens Electric Cooperative and Piedmont Rural Telephone Cooperative, and plates of barbecue from Whiteford’s Giant Burger of Laurens. The banquet, on December 4, features former professional coach Sam Wyche.
Presbyterian College assistant coach Kent Haltiwanger brought along some players to honor, as did head coaches Chris Liner of Laurens High and Corey Fountain of Laurens. Laurens Academy had a conflict. Cooper Short and Eli Teeselink represented the Blue Hose; Mark McGowan, Duane Martin, Ryan Campbell, Jayden McGowan and Nick Humphries the Raiders; and Austin Caughman, Greg Sanders, Jacob Hall, Kimon Quarles and Darian Grant the Red Devils.