“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.
“It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there, to compete….and in truth, I’ve never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn’t appreciate the grind, the discipline”.
I grew up in Jackson, Tennessee. On the south side of town. People that grew up in South Jackson take pride in that fact. We were looked down on, we were not as good, we were the rednecks, the poor kids, the uneducated kids as far as the rest of Jackson was concerned. I loved it! I loved being the underdog! I was a South Side Hawk! I bled red and black! From the time I can remember, my parents would take me to South Side football games on Friday nights. I honestly believe that from 1975 until 1985 when I started playing for South Side that I attended more Hawk games than anyone. I could tell you all of the players’ names, their numbers, and the positions that they played. I knew all of the coaches names, the schedule and the scores of all of the games. My heroes were South Side Hawks. I can still hear Brad Webb call their names over the loudspeaker. Teddy Austin, Randy Carson, Stan Chandler, Downing Cain, Carl Batchelor, Desi Humphrey, Kevin Mills, Greg Webb, Brent Brown, Rusty Carson, Billy Dan Drury, Danny Gladney, Scott Jones, and Herbie Hurst just to name a few. It was my passion. My dream was to grow up and play quarterback for South Side and beat North Side. I wanted to be the best quarterback in Hawk history. It meant something to me and I worked for it!
During that time junior high was the 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. Then you went to high school in the 10th grade. Our youth league football program ran through the 7th grade, and then I played junior high football in the 8th and 9th grade. I was pretty average as an 8th grader, I didn’t really play a whole lot and I wasn’t really sure that my football dreams were going to pan out. I was pretty good at basketball and baseball and I thought that maybe that was my path in sports. But then a few amazing things happened in the span of a year. One was, I grew a lot between the 8th grade and the 9th grade and became the starting quarterback for the junior high team. In the 9th grade I was six foot tall and weighed 160 pounds. I really surprised myself with the improvement that I made that season. I always had a really nice delivery and threw a good tight spiral. I attribute most of that to the many hours spent in the backyard honing my skills. Now, all of a sudden, I had a lot of arm strength due to my increased size. I had a cannon! I also was getting quicker and faster. I went from being very average in speed to being one of the fastests boys in the school. I remember my junior high coaches, Johnny Allen, Gene Cain and Tony Ricketts, telling me one day that if I kept working and improving that they thought I could win the starting job at the high school the next year! Wow. It was hard to believe. The other thing that happened was that our long time high school coach, Bobby Wilson, retired. Coach Wilson was one of the best men you would ever meet, but he was adamantly opposed to throwing the football. Coach Wilson had a ton of success in the 1970’s as our coach but hard times fell on the program in the early 1980’s. He was old school and probably a little unwilling to change the offense. After Coach Wilson stepped down Jerry Hayes was hired as our new head coach in the spring of 1985. That was my golden opportunity. Coach Hayes was very versatile on offense and liked to throw the ball more than most coaches at that time. I was going to be his man!
I knew a little bit about him from my cousins who were all older and who had all played for North Side High School across town. Coach Hayes had been an assistant at North Side a few years earlier before going to Riverside and Trenton as a head coach. My cousins told me that his nickname at North Side was “Bonecrusher” and that he was one bad “son of a bitch”. My cousin Doug told me about the butt chewings he had received from “Bonecrusher” Hayes and how much he hated the “bastard”. That would have been scary and intimidating to most, but not to me. Remember, I played backyard football with some pretty rough dudes my whole life, there is no way anyone could scare me more than Herbie Hurst or whip my ass worse than “Big Oz” or Todd Osborne! Also, remember my father had coached most of my youth football teams growing up and that experience had gotten me ready. My dad was pretty tough on me and regularly “chewed my butt out”! I was prepared, I was locked in, I had been molded! Jerry Hayes could not be any worse than what I was used to!
Coach Jerry Hayes and Wayne Brantley (Fall 1987)
Coach Hayes came in that spring and he kicked butt and took names just as advertised. He really shook things up, some of the players thought he was going to kill us, he was very intimidating. He had some great sayings, like “I am going to make y’all run until your tongues hang out, and then, I am going to make you run on your tongues”. “You would rather die and go to hell before you go through the hell I am going to put you through”. My favorite of course was, “Brantley, you are going to cause me to lose my religion”! Or, “Brantley, have you lost your mind”! There are also a few I am choosing to leave out because I want females and young boys to be able to read this! But, if you would like some examples watch the movie “Full Metal Jacket”, the Drill Sergeant has nothing on Coach Hayes! Several players quit the team and several players were kicked off of the team. It was a new day boys, a new sheriff was in town and Hawk football was never going to be the same.
It was a real blessing to me though. Like I said, I was prepared, I was ready, I had been molded! One day during our early spring workouts Coach Hayes took the quarterbacks to do some throwing after our lift. There was a rising senior and two rising juniors who had shared the snaps the year before and then me and one other player in the mix. I think most people just assumed the older guys would battle for the top spot, but not me. I was focused on being the man. That day after workouts I caught Coach Hayes’ attention. I had a much better delivery, a tighter spiral, and a lot more pop on the ball than the others. I also wasn’t worried about being cool. I was worried about doing what the coach said with maximum effort and I was willing to knock myself out for the prize. The others thought they wanted to be the quarterback, but I would have died for it! I had an edge about me. Needless to say, I won the job and never let it go! I started every game in high school.
Coach Hayes was extremely hard on quarterbacks, but if ever a player was made to play quarterback for Jerry Hayes, it was me. I could take an ass chewing like nobody else. Coach Hayes would yell and scream and kick and cuss at me and I would just smile back at him and say, yessir! He would yell at me on the practice field, in the locker room, in the parking lot, and even walking down the hallways at school. He would grab me by my facemask and yank my head back and forth with violent intentions and kick me in the rear end. He even broke his clipboard over my head a time or two or ten or twenty. But he could not shake me! Like I said before, I didn’t care about being cool or how I looked to others. I wanted to do what he ordered me to do to the best of my ability. He wanted perfection and I am a perfectionist when it comes to playing quarterback. I worked out pretty well for him and he worked out pretty well for me, we were good for each other. I became a two time All-District player, a one time All-West Tennessee player, and I made honorable mention All-State as a senior. I won our team’s special teams MVP as a sophomore and as a senior, I won the offensive MVP award my senior year and the Hawk award, and I also won the offensive player of the game in our bowl game that year. I was named the school’s Hall of Fame athlete at the Jackson-Madison County Sports Hall of Fame banquet in the spring of my senior year. In my three year high school career I threw for just over 2,500 yards and threw 34 touchdown passes. I also received a scholarship to play college football. The game and the experience of playing it had really shaped my life and put me on a career path that would last a long time.
My best friend and teammate Jimmy Shanks #35
I had the best teammates in the world at South Side. Jimmy Shanks, John Arnold, Dexter Brookins, Carthel Hill, Lamont Wortham, Mark Blake, Paul Armour, Damon Bradford, Jerry Scott, Donald Hill, Jeff Patrick, Shaw Williams, Jason Williams, Chad Avery, Wes Brewer, Scott Lott, Greg Collier, Kevin Newbern, Tim Latham, Roland Fisher, Damon Warren, John Hoover, Billy Wolf, Ricky Catlett, and Rodney Batchelor to name a few. The list could go on and on! You need brothers in your life, maybe not blood relative brothers, but brothers in the truest sense of the word. People who will challenge you, help you, encourage you, pull you along, push you along, but most importantly, have your back. Have your back no matter what happens, good or bad.
Seniors Fall 1987
1st Row: Russell Powers (40) , Wayne Brantley (11), Dexter Brookins (59),Jimmy Shanks (35), John Arnold (87). 2nd Row: Greg Collier (25), Carthel Hill (67), LaMont Wortham (57), Todd Birk (77), Donald Hill (84).
I want to give a big shout out to the class of 1988, my teammates and my brothers!
Russell Powers #40: Russell was very smart, in school and on the football field, he was tough, dependable, and he was a good athlete. If it had not been for knee injuries Russell probably would have been the best overall player on the team our senior year. Russell was one of those guys that you knew he was going to be a big success in life and I am sure that he is.
Dexter Brookins #59: He was the best! He was big, strong, and fast. But more importantly he loved everyone. He loved his team and his teammates. He was forgiving and he never left anyone out. He also had a larger than life personality. Everyone loved Dexter! His positive attitude and his passion for life were contagious and he made me a better person. I miss him!
Jimmy Shanks #35: Jimmy was my best friend and a great teammate. He was strong and tough. He was unselfish to the core. He was a great LB and FB. He had the perfect mental attitude for playing those positions. We spent countless hours together playing and practicing football. I really miss Jimmy and one regret that I have in life is not remaining close with him as an adult.
John Arnold #87: John was the purest and best person that I knew growing up. He had a tough life at home, the cards were really stacked against him. He never made excuses and he was always doing the right thing. He was very mature spiritually and he was a great role model. He was also a really good athlete. He had great hands and he could run. But most of all he was the toughest guy on the team!
Greg Collier #38: He could flat out run! Greg was the fastest player on the team and was a dangerous threat in the passing game, kick return game, and as a defensive back. I loved throwing the deep ball to Greg! We hooked on countless TD’s in our careers. He also returned several kicks for TD’s and he had several pick sixes!
Carthel Hill #67: Carthel was the strongest and most explosive player on the team. He had a great motor and a quick first step. I honestly believe that if he had been bigger he could have played in the NFL. He was also the epitome of honesty and hard work. He was the salt of the earth. He was dependable and you knew he had your back no matter what. He was for sure one of the people you would want in your foxhole.
Lamont Wortham #57: Lamont went on to have a great football career on the college level at TSU and was really close to making it in the NFL. Lamont was a freak of nature! He was the perfect defensive end. He was tough, he was long, and he could run. He also played all out all of the time! He was also very unselfish, he played for the love of the game and his teammates and he never really got the recognition that he deserved. He was a stud player!
Todd Birk #77: I love Todd Birk! He played football because he loved his teammates. He was unselfish and willing to do whatever was needed for the good of the team. I know he always played positions that were probably not the best fit for him, but he did it anyway. He was a three year starter but he really came into his own during our senior year. He was big and dominated on the defensive line.
Donald HIll #84: Donald and I were really close. We spent a lot of time together throwing passes and running routes. A quarterback always has that one go to guy and Donald was that for me. Donald had size and speed and great hands. He could be attached to the line of scrimmage or play split out. He was a match up nightmare! He was a great teammate as well. He had a big personality and everyone loved Donald! I really miss him!
I have so many great memories of those afternoons spent on the corner of Harts Bridge and Chester Levee Roads practicing and playing football. Most of the memories don’t involve wins or losses or touchdown passes. They involve people, sights, sounds, and smells. I remember mostly the the leadership of Mark Blake and Paul Armour, the dry wit and sense of humor of Coach Growe, the outlandishness of Jerry Scott and the Mark Gastineau sack dance, the smile of Kieth Wooley, the positivity of Jimmy Shanks, the toughness of Reggie Pierce and Chad Avery, and the laugh of Damon Warren and the kindness of Rowland Fisher. I remember seeing friends and family pass by and honking their car horns while we practiced. I remember the smell of Long John Silver’s covering the practice field toward the end of the day. I remember the smell of firewood being burned in the late fall and the crispness in the air. I remember Rodney Batchelor’s voice and how you knew he was the man. I remember fearing Damon Bradford in hitting drills and how great the ball felt in my hands as I ripped off a tight spiral. I think I could have thrown pass routes all afternoon and night and I would have never gotten tired of it. I remember how well John Arnold ran the out route and how Donald Hill caught every fifty-fifty ball. I remember the sounds of the whistle, the pads popping, and players yelling out calls. I remember the smell of the grass. The grass. Oh my goodness, the grass. If I close my eyes, clear my mind, and wait a few seconds, I can be there, and it’s beautiful.
A great coach, mentor, and leader of men. Coach Johnny Growe and Wayne Brantley at the football banquet in the fall of 1987.
I will forever hold the Friday nights in my memories. Game day was really special! I loved wearing my jersey to school. That jersey was sacred. I took a lot of pride in being able to represent the team and for everyone at school to see the face behind number 11. Mrs. Neisler, Mrs. Tedford, and Mrs. Doris would always be so encouraging about the game and the team! Our cheerleaders were always great and they made gamedays awesome with decorations, spirit buttons and ribbons, and we always had great pep rallies! At one time or another I probably had a crush on each one of our cheerleaders but I was too shy and awkward to talk to them, much less ask them out on a date! They were coached and led by Mrs. Judy Doris. Mrs. Doris was one of a kind and a true Hawk. She was without a doubt the biggest fan any of us had. She had a tremendous impact on a lot of students in the south Jackson community. I am so thankful that he was a part of my life. Another special thing about game days was that my biggest fan, Susan Brantley, my mother, would fix her special crock-pot chicken and cornbread for my pre-game meal! If you want the recipe I am sure she would love to give it to you!
Todd Birk threw a great block for Wayne Brantley!
South Side had not won a lot of games in the recent years before I was in high school. That’s one of the reasons that Coach Wilson had retired and we had hired Coach Hayes. The Hawks had only won three games total in the previous two seasons. So, we had a lot of obstacles to overcome. As I mentioned earlier, Coach Hayes came in in the spring and took charge. We went to work. I have never worked that hard in football practice ever before or since. It was brutal but it built us into a team that was hardened and that would not quit. We would fight and claw for everything that we could get! We went 8-3 that season, making the play-offs for just the second time in school history. The program was turning the corner. During my three years in high school we went 21-11, which was one of the best three year runs in school history at that time. Coach Hayes would go on to coach 25 years at South Side and impact a lot of young men. He was a head coach in West Tennessee for 29 years total and compiled a record of 166-148.
Coach Hayes and I had a few ups and downs later in life. We coached against each other and coached together for a short period of time and it was not always harmonious. Nonetheless, I love him and I am thankful for him. The great memories far outweigh the bad. The most valuable lessons that I learned from him were about toughness and hard work. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and the positive impact that he had on my life.
The jersey! This was our home jersey in 1985. We got some clean jerseys in 1986! I loved wearing #11 for the Hawks!
I had the honor to coach against Coach Growe a few times in baseball. He beat me every time! The student is never greater than the teacher!