Today's interviewee is Joe Wilson, the coach of Lowndes' 1980 Class AAAA championship team. Lowndes named its field in Wilson's honor on Sept. 20. Wilson played on Valdosta's 1951 Class A championship team and was an assistant on several state-winning teams under Wright Bazemore, including Bazemore's final title in 1971. He was Lowndes' head coach from 1976 through 1988. Wilson, 86, still attends Lowndes home games.
Joe Wilson, former Lowndes head coach
1. How do you feel about the honor of Joe Wilson Field at A.B. "Sonny" Martin Stadium, and did you expect it? "I thought it was mighty nice of them to do it. I had some hints that it might happen through this mass media that we've got. You can't keep secrets any more. I had an idea that something was happening but didn't know what it was. I think it's a fine honor. The guys I worked with and the players I had, we did a good thing. The program was down. It had never been up. They had never had a winning season. They had never beaten Valdosta or Moultrie or Thomasville. Our first year, we went 8-2 and beat Moultrie and Thomasville. The second year we beat Valdosta. The fifth year we won state. We've been going in a good direction ever since." [Lowndes opened in 1966 with the merger of student bodies from Lowndes County (Golden Eagles) and Hahira (Tigers) high schools.]
2. You got the Lowndes job in 1976. What did you and your staff do that turned the program around? "When we went to Lowndes, kids hadn't seen the kind of practices we had. They had cars around the practice field, and kids that were supposed to be practicing would be hiding behind them. At the first spring game, we played Valdosta, and we started 11 kids on defense, and the following fall, eight of them didn't come back. They left the team. They weren't used to the toughness of how we did things, but the ones who stayed were good football players. We practiced the same way at Lowndes that we practiced at Valdosta all those years when I was a player and a coach. We had to convince them that we could win. One year we had 47 players on the whole roster. A couple of years later, we had 80 to 100. We were finding kids that should be playing football and getting them out there. By hard work and building a little success, they started to believe we could do it."
3. You played and coached under Bazemore, who won 14 state championships. What made him special? "The most outstanding thing was that he was so far ahead of his time. For example, he started running what I call a spread offense with a tailback in the shotgun in 1947 when he won a state championship with Billy Grant and Sonny Stephenson. Today teams try to run plays before defenses can get set. I can remember him in the 1960s continually pushing for quickness and getting the play going. He could adapt to any new thing, but with him, there really wasn't any new thing. He's the man that got rules changed. He ran a center keeper that once scored 11 touchdowns. The quarterback would take the ball, put it on the ground, and the center would run with it. They outlawed that. He told me he was an officer in the Navy and had to stand watch out on the night and that he would play football games in his head over and over. He must've, because he knew football better than all of us. He was the best there was."
4. What was your best memory or favorite game? "The 7-to-2, the second year at Lowndes when we beat Valdosta. [The score was 7-2, and Valdosta was ranked No. 1 at the time.] That was just unheard of that Lowndes could beat Valdosta. They didn't know how to act. Then winning the state championship. That was monumental. But I'd have to say 7-to-2. Everyone thought it was impossible. At the TD club that year, I remember saying that if we beat them one in 100 years that I'd live to 200 just to beat them twice."
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