DAWSON -- Don Beard has been part of every big football moment at Terrell Academy, coaching the Eagles in some capacity since the school opened in 1970. That includes three GISA state titles as head coach during the 1990s and another state title last year as an assistant under current coach Bill Murdock.
The 70-year-old Beard, however, has the flu and if the Eagles had to release an injury report today, Beard would be questionable to be on the Eagles' sideline in Friday's state title rematch against Thomas Jefferson. Terrell Academy won last year's title game, 61-26. If Beard is not there, it will be his first absence from a game since the 2007 state semifinals when the Eagles lost against Thomas Jefferson, 35-28.
That coincidence is not lost on Terrell Academy's players.
"It'd be a weird experience for the team if he wasn't there," Eagles quarterback Cole Phillips said. "He wasn't there two years ago and we lost against Thomas Jefferson in the Final Four."
Superstitious or not, running back Cole Byrd had his fingers crossed.
"Hopefully, he gets better," Byrd added.
The team has honored Beard twice during the past three seasons. Terrelll Academy, in 2007, named its field after the longtime coach. Then, after this regular season ended, the Eagles announced they would build a hammer-and-anvil display (noting the times Beard had to "hammer home" lessons and work ethics to players) near the field entrance. That will be ready next year.
Beard, who was head coach for 33 years at Terrell Academy, had a 139-94-6 record.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME: There was one more hurdle for Terrell Academy after its state championship win last season at Thomas Jefferson -- the four-hour trip back home. The Eagles, however, are home Friday as they try for a repeat.
"Last year, we were happy we won and everything, we just had that long drive home," Phillips said. "If we win again, at least now we don't have that long drive to worry about."
The last time Terrell Academy played for the state championship at home was in 2002 against Crisp Academy. In Beard's final year as Terrell Academy's head coach, the Eagles lost that contest, 24-15.
LONGING FOR A RING: Terrell Academy receiver/defensive back Hogan Skandamis -- who was not on last year's state championship football team -- played mostly second base for the baseball team that lost in last spring's state championship series against Randolph Southern.
Although most of his current football teammates already have state championship rings, Skandamis can have one of his own with a Terrell Academy win Friday.
"Yes sir, I really want that ring really bad," Skandamis said. "I have to have a state championship ring for football since we lost last spring in baseball and all."
EXTERNAL HELP: Terrell Academy head coach Murdock, line coach Ashley Walker and Beard (defensive coordinator) all work at the school.
Murdock is also the headmaster, Walker teaches history and physical education and Beard, although retired, still teaches weight training.
Receivers coach Scott Gilley (tarp company manager) and offensive coordinator Tate Parker (insurance adjuster), however, work full-time jobs outside of education.
"It is like they are working two jobs, they are very dedicated to us," Murdock said. "Tate worked with me at Southwest Georgia (where I was head coach for 16 years) and helps me with the play calling and has done a tremendous job. And Scott has done a great job with the receivers. I feel a lot of the success from the past two years is a result of all the hard work he has put in."