improved, that toughness in the south became
something of a rallying cry.
South Georgia players know the reputation.
They know their fields often look a bit rougher
and their weight rooms are a bit more dingy.
That builds character.
“There’s nitty-gritty players that are pretty
much country boys, so they’re tough as nails,”
Bryant said. “We pride ourselves on being looked
down upon and being able to show people up.”
Perhaps it’s genetic. Bryant’s father, uncles
and cousins all played at TCC, the last of them
graduating as a state champion in 1997. Those
glory days are spoken of often, at every family
dinner or holiday gathering. The same is true in
towns across South Georgia, where family tradi-
tion and football tradition are forever intert wined.
The biggest difference for Bryant’s generation is what comes later. Thirty years ago, even
the best of South Georgia’s players rarely left.
When their high school careers ended, they
took jobs in the sprawling cotton fields and peanut farms, reliving those Friday nights through
their accomplishments of their sons. These
days though, football represents opportunity,
and the small hamlets of South Georgia have
become boomtowns for talent.
“I think we had 13 kids playing some form
of college football last year,” said Len Robbins,
head of the Clinch County football booster club.
“Man, 25 years ago, we had no one playing col-
If the weight of the past pushes South Geor-
gia’s youth onto the football field, it’s the promise
of the future that keeps them there. Counties
like Quitman and Calhoun, Early and Clinch are
among the poorest in the state, with the median
household income rarely eclipsing the cost of a
four-year degree. But football offers an alterna-
tive, and the entire community understands the
relationship between wins and prosperity.
“They really get pretty ticked off when a kid
wastes an opportunity,” Beckham said. “Foot-
ball is a way out for these guys.”
While South Georgia has sent its share of
native sons onto greater heights, perhaps no
one blazed the path more notably than Randall
Godfrey. The Lowndes County alum starred at
Georgia in the 1990s then played for more than
a decade in the NFL. His success, he said, is a
credit to the city that raised him.
“Every time I came back, I got a little pat on
the back,” Godfrey said. “It kept me motivated,
kept me grounded.”
Godfrey owns several small businesses in Val-
dosta now, and he runs a camp for youth football
players there each year. He preaches to his kids
the value of appreciating their roots, but encour-
ages them to move beyond the city’s limits.