Head Coach Maurice Freeman had spent half of his adult life helping young men grow in Brooks County. 2013 would prove his most challenging.
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And the toughest thing about that...about three hours after the accident Troy State called and said 'Hey coach, we want to talk to you about Jicarre Watkins.' And I said, what do you wanna know? ..Because I thought they knew about what had happened. They said 'Coach, we'd like to bring him back down. We're thinking about offering him (a scholarship).'"
Freeman talked about all three of the students.
Coach Maurice Freeman graduated from Brooks County High School in 1983 and lettered four years as a placekicker at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, located an hour away from Quitman.
Freeman spent 6 years as an assistant coach at Northeast Macon High School before taking over as head coach of his hometown school in 1994.
In his first season, Freeman inspired the town with the motto, "The Pride is Back," and immediately led Brooks County to its first and only state championship. It wasn't easy. The team lost 3 of its first 6 games before starting a 17 game winning streak that ended a year later.
1994 was important for everyone in the small town of Quitman. Meat packing and textile jobs had gradually moved overseas, leaving people without work. Quitman was deteriorating like many other rural towns around the country.
In the 2000 Census, the median income was $20,924 per household and $24,154 per family. The per capita income for the city was $10,594. About 31.2% of families and 34.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 46.7% of those under age 18 and 20.9% of those age 65 or over.
Integration of schools happened in the early 70s and there was still residual racial tension between some of the residents.
Coaches and their families prepare kids for life. Even in high school, coaching can be a thankless job unless the team is winning. At small high schools, coaching is not about the money.
Life goes on in small towns as our country changes. Parents, educators, and townspeople who support each other, have empathy, and are eager to understand other perspectives are the rock in communities like Quitman.
Images from 1994, Freeman's first year coaching at Brooks County: