By Brian Paglia
The man sitting on the bus was a legend, but to Mike Rozier, he was a stranger. Maybe he was a friend of the bus driver, Rozier thought. So he gave the man nothing more than a passing glance on the way to Rozier's first game as head football coach at Henry County in 2000.
But there he was again two weeks later, sitting on the bus, blending in with the Warhawks on the way to Forest Park. Rozier had to know who he was.
He turned to Clint Satterfield, then an assistant coach at Henry County.
"Well, who's this guy?" Rozier asked.
"Well, that's Big Jim," Satterfield said. "He's a legend around here."
Rozier had seen this man every Friday night. He always stood on the sideline with Henry County meticulously keeping statistics of the game, which to the first-year coach appeared suspicious. Rozier needed more information, so he approached then Henry County athletic director Chuck Miller.
"Chuck," Rozier said, "let me ask you a question. Who's that big guy down on the sideline with that notebook writing stuff down?"
"Well, that's Big Jim," Miller said.
"Well, what's he doing writing all that stuff down?" Rozier asked.
"He's keeping up with all the mistakes you make," Miller said. "Once you get past a certain point, he's gonna come over and tell you."
Rozier couldn't have known that Jim Daniels' tenure pre-dated his own. He'd outlasted three football coaches. He'd been through 1-9 and 0-10 plenty of times before. He'd been to baseball games and cheerleading state competitions. He'd been around long enough to be known simply as Big Jim, and everyone -- from coaches to players to administrators to fans -- knew Big Jim.
He'd been to his first Henry County football game in 1988, for the kids he coached in youth leagues in Locust Grove had grown enough to make the Warhawks varsity. Daniels wanted to know what his pupils would look like playing in McDonough, wanted to know that they were OK, that everything he taught them had made a difference.
And he was taken in immediately. He became like family, an unmistakable presence at Henry County sports going on 22 years this season.
"Big Jim's probably one of the more loyal fans in the history of Henry County High School," Miller said. "We've had a lot of fans that have had student-athletes that supported us, but Jim has just kind of adopted Henry County as part of his family. He's just been something special."
Henry County's coaches put him right to work.
Chuck Campbell, the school's baseball coach, handed over the scorebook duties to Daniels. What he got back after every game was a kaleidoscope of colored lines, a system so deliberate the game could've been replayed according to Daniels' notation.
"Double got this color, single got this color and RBI got this color," Campbell said. "It was incredible his organization with that."
Soon after meeting Daniels, Rozier let him keep the team's official stats. Daniels once cost the Warhawks a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for giving too much opinion to a referee. He once taunted Northside-Warner Robins at midfield before a game, confident his Warhawks could pull off the upset against the state's top team.
"I had to tell Jim to knock it off," said Rozier. Henry County lost the game 69-0.
Few things could keep Daniels from missing a game.
Maybe his job at a beverage distributor, but not when the Warhawks baseball team was in the state playoffs in Augusta in 1996. Rain outs kept pushing the series back, so Daniels kept calling work to take another vacation day, kept telling them he'd travelled with the team to Augusta and couldn't get back without them.
Maybe illness, like when an infection in his foot kept him in the hospital for over a month this past November. But, Henry County offensive coordinator Rex Robertson gave him rides.
"He's just a real good person," Robertson said. "He'd do anything for anybody. So when he got sick, we tried to help him out."
But Daniels pulled through. He always did. He pulled through the broken pelvis he suffered when he was 18 and living in Virginia Beach, Va. He pulled through