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Winnersville U.S.A.
Geoffrey Norman
October 31, 1988
In high school football, Valdosta (Ga.) High is as good as it gets
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October 31, 1988

Winnersville U.s.a.

In high school football, Valdosta (Ga.) High is as good as it gets

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"I've been here for 15 years," Hyder says, "and the other day at the store I heard a woman say, 'There goes that new coach.' And I'm sure it'll be that way if I'm here another 15 years. When you follow someone who's a legend, you just have to expect that."

In the minutes before the start of Valdosta's game against Camden County, Hyder stands calmly on the sidelines watching the warmups and letting his assistant coaches and his team captains handle things. He is a man of average size, but his face, which is all severe angles and high ridges of bone, is a study in concentration, and his eyes burn. He lived in Valdosta for five years before he felt it was safe to buy a house. Waller remembers that when he was president of the Touchdown Club, "There was many a Sunday afternoon when Coach Hyder and I would sit across from each other in my living room, trying to figure a way to keep his job for another week."

Valdosta, the visitor thinks, was fortunate to have had Bazemore and then to have found Hyder to replace him. But if Hyder decides next year to join Bazemore in the stands, Valdosta will find another coach and go on winning, just as it always has.

So as the warmups wind down and the Wildcats leave the field for the little cinder block locker room under the stands, the visitor tries another football cliché to explain the way Valdosta keeps on winning: You got to have the horses.

On an earlier trip the visitor had attended a Touchdown Club breakfast, and, while he helped himself to a little more sausage and grits, he asked one of the men next to him to name some of the great players to come out of Valdosta. To win 600 games, he thought, you must have groomed a Heisman Trophy winner or two, a bushel of All-Americas, certainly a few dozen players who made it to the pros.

"Well," the answer came, "there was Buck Belue."

"Beg pardon?"

"Buck Belue. He was quarterback up at the university when Herschel Walker was there. He played in the USFL a couple of years."

Oh. The guy who handed the ball to Herschel.

A few other names turn up: Stan Rome (Clemson and the Kansas City Chiefs) and Bruce Bennett (University of Florida and CFL). Dana Brinson, who now plays for Nebraska, was a Wildcat. But there are no Tarkentons or Walkers in the Wildcats' archives. There are also no blocking sleds or tackling dummies on the practice field—just grass, goalposts and faintly marked yard stripes. When the Wildcats practice hitting, they hit each other. And when they play, they play as a team, not as one or two stars with an anonymous supporting cast.

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