VALDOSTA — Clinch County is holding true to tradition going into the 2019 season.
Despite losing a senior class that only lost six games through four years and 15-year head coach Jim Dickerson, the Panthers are optimistic about their season.
They have every right to be as the reigning — back-to-back — Class A Public champions.
The Panthers hired offensive coordinator Don Tison Jr. as head coach to replace Dickerson — the winningest coach in program history with a 152-44-1 overall record — after he announced his retirement in January.
Tison Jr. is the son of former coach Donald Tison, who is the second winningest coach in Clinch County history with a 148-72-6 all-time record.
The new head coach took part in the ITG Next media day last Saturday and spoke about the expectations for the program.
“I’m very proud and honored to be the next coach (at Clinch),” Tison Jr. said. “I feel a great amount of responsibility to keep the program going in the same direction that’s it’s been going for the last 40 years. Expectations aren’t going to change if anything they’re going to go up a little bit. We’ve had tremendous success the last four years, winning three out of four state championships. We’ve been blessed with tremendous players and tremendous support from the community, the board of education and educators. So none of that is going to change.”
Tison has been with the Panthers since 2006 where he served as an assistant coach until promoted to offensive coordinator in 2009. Much like Tison Jr., the Panthers coaching staff hasn’t dealt with a high turnover rate from coaches or players. Much of the staff is tenured and the players that are in Homerville play for the Panthers.
“We’re stepping into a situation where we’re very blessed where people want to stay there and people want to coach there,” Tison Jr. said. “The kids from Homerville want to play there. We don’t deal with losing kids going here or going there. We don’t ever have to worry about that.”
One battle that will be faced is the drop off in player’s leadership. The Panthers graduated many players that could lead on and off the field. The headliner of that group — Trezmen Marshall — was known for his skill on the field but his smarts off it. He’s attending the University of Georgia and has potential to see play time as a freshman. Replacing him is impossible but finding players to duplicate his leadership is within reach for Tison.
“The biggest thing that we graduated last year was leadership,” Tison Jr. said. “We had a very good senior class that were great leaders. Great leaders. All summer long that’s what we’ve been harping on. Developing leadership, making things as hard as possible, and trying to help our players realize this is the point when you have to have leaders. This is the point when leadership has to come.”
The Panthers have a chance to continue adding on to the storied history of Clinch County. The last four years has been the best stretch in the program’s 67 year history.
Winning three out of four championships is uncommon but winning four out of five will be the goal.
Putting together the best football team possible is the deep rooted tradition of the Panthers, started by Tison’s father more than 40 years ago. The younger Tison want’s to keep that tradition alive.
“We’ve won the last three out of four (championship) but the culture has been like that since the mid-70s,” Tison Jr. said about the culture at Clinch. “We just happened to win it those last couple of years. You don’t see that very much. It’s just abnormal to see it. But really the culture hasn’t been defined and hasn’t been created with that class. It was there before then — they were really a result of previous classes. Some of the leaders that we lost. I played ball with their daddies. I remember them as players, tremendous, hard-working guys. They loved the program and they raised their sons to be that way.”
The love and pride passed down through generations of Panthers is why they’re expected to continue their dominance. That’s the tradition of the Clinch County Panthers.
“At Clinch it’s never been about a player,” Tison Jr. said. “It’s never been about a class. Sure we’ve had classes that are better than others but the culture has always remained the same.”