By Rory Sharrock
The coaching fraternity in football, be it high school, college or the NFL, is a unique association with family ties that appears large from the outside, but in actuality is as small as the neighborhood convenience store.
Tonight, a perfect example of just how small their world is can be seen at Valdosta High School when former Jonesboro head coach Rick Tomberlin welcomes one of his ex-players, Clint Satterfield, and the Cardinals (1-0) to Titletown USA to face the No. 7-ranked (Class AAAAA) Wildcats (2-0).
Tomberlin, who patrolled the sidelines at Jonesboro for three seasons from 1986 through 1988, was the coach when current head man, Satterfield, was a varsity student-athlete.
In the 20 years that have passed since his stint in Clayton County, Tomberlin has matched wits with several former assistants that have been promoted to head coach. However, tonight's contest will be his first time squaring off against a former player.
"I've had many coaches become head coaches. We had a good program at Washington County and I think at one point, I had 11 assistants become head coaches. But Clint is the first player that is a head coach that I'll go against," said Tomberlin.
As a former pupil, Satterfield holds Tomberlin in the highest regards as a mentor and a friend who still has his fingerprints on high school football in Clayton County.
"I have a lot of respect for Rick Tomberlin. I had the chance to play for him and he's a great leader. He's got several guys in the pros. He's got several players coaching all over the place. He's an icon in our profession. The thing I remember the most about him was the weight room. He does that bigger, faster, stronger program. Valdosta is going to be strong and conditioned because that's what he talked about," said Satterfield.
For Tomberlin, this game will be full of emotions and personal feelings of his early days in the Southern Crescent. He's worked with several pillars of the coaching community, including Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes, Larry Mortonson of Morrow as well as former assistants Bob Ryan and Don Stout.
"I have very fond memories. I remember when my friend Fred Smith hired me and I'm still in debt to him for doing that. My daughter was born when we lived there," said Tomberlin. "We had a real outstanding coaching staff there and there's guys I still keep in contact with. I'm hoping to see some of my former players and colleagues. It will be a reunion of sorts. I wish Jonesboro the best. I hope we win and they win the rest of their games."
While there's sure to be warm hugs and exchanges of pleasantries between the coaches during pregame, when the whistle blows, it's all business and winning is the only thing that matters for both teams.
"We're looking forward to this. It's going to be sold out. They sent us 200 tickets. It's a once in a lifetime chance for these kids to go down to Titletown," Satterfield said. "We're going down there to play. We're not going there to lie down. They have one of the best defenses I've ever seen and they thrive on defense and special teams. They score in waves, so we're going to try and eliminate that from happening. We're going to approach this like any other game, but we know ahead of time how they react."
Despite the storied past of football excellence at Valdosta High School, Jonesboro travels southbound with an abundance of confidence in its coaching staff, players and game plan. The team is well aware of Valdosta's tradition, but making history is heavily on the minds of the players wearing the red and white uniforms. "We've been practicing real hard and the coaches got everything planned for us to get the win and shock the world. We worked too hard this summer to be scared of anything. Out of all my four years at Jonesboro, this is the best team by far," said Jonesboro senior quarterback Cliff Crews.
The Cardinals kicked off the 2008 season with a 21-14 win over Morrow. Last week, the team had an open date to heal any nagging injuries and prepare for tonight's game versus a state-ranked and nationally known program.
This past summer, ESPN went on a countrywide search through big cities and small towns in search of the ultimate sports mecca, of which they labeled Titletown.
After visiting a host of places from New York City to Massilon, Ohio, the network picked the city of Valdosta as its top choice. While this selection has given Valdosta the blessings of national headlines, it's also presented it with a curse and the vengeful wrath of every opposing school seeking to slay the big giant.
"When we play other teams, they get up for it because they're not playing Valdosta, they're playing Titletown, so they don't have any problems getting up to play us.
There's a lot of good and a little bit of negative, but we're real proud of it," said Tomberlin.
Kick off between the visting Cardinals and host Wildcats is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.