A Southern story: Football, money and audiotape

Rush Propst won two state titles as Colquitt County football coach.

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Rush Propst won two state titles as Colquitt County football coach.

Long story short: The South is a-dither because the former director of the Valdosta Touchdown Club taped the Valdosta High coach saying he needed money for recruiting purposes, recruiting being something high schools technically aren’t supposed to do. In mid-conversation, the coach suggested that Alabama and Georgia are paying recruits – also not technically allowed – between $90,000 and $150K to sign.

The recording, as all 21st century recordings must, surfaced on YouTube. Both Georgia and Alabama have contacted the former director – Michael Nelson, who’s known as Nub, about which more later – to see if there’s validity to Rush Propst’s allegation. That rough going price for big-time recruits, it must be said, has circulated in these parts for some time, thus far without substantiation.

Nelson himself dismissed the possibility that Georgia will be subjected to a full-blown investigation, telling AJC colleague Chip Towers: “I don’t think they’re in trouble because of who said this (i.e., Propst). The man’s credibility is zero, and they’ll put this out in no time. I’d be surprised if the NCAA spends a minute on this.”

(An aside: With the uproar over the disparate states of its men’s and women’s tournament bubbles — this caught fire on TikTok — the NCAA has bigger fish to fry. Also: The NCAA hasn’t done much with the more-than-three-years-old evidence it was handed by the Feds regarding shoe-company money and basketball recruits, so we needn’t wait with bated breath.)

Propst has been placed on administrative leave by Valdosta, his latest program having been the brief home of wayfaring quarterback Jake Garcia, who sought to transfer there because of COVID-19 restrictions in California. According to Nelson, Propst needed Touchdown Club money to pay transfers, also not allowed. (Per the tape, he calls it “funny money.”) Garcia was deemed ineligible to play for Valdosta. He enrolled at Grayson in midseason. Grayson won the Class 7A state title.

What’s breathtaking about this kerfuffle is its sweep. It touches on college recruiting and high school recruiting. It mentions Alabama and Georgia, which are linked at the hip because of personnel overlap. It’s tied to Valdosta, the biggest name in high school football. Plus, it involves Propst, an entity unto himself.

He coached Hoover High in Alabama, which was the subject of the MTV series “Two-A-Days.” He told Nelson his program there was funded in part by money seized by the Hoover police in drug raids. He was found to be raising two families, leading to a messy divorce. He moved to Colquitt County, also a major player in Georgia prep circles (Ray Goff played there); Propst was fired after an investigation found that — quoting the AJC — “he committed ethics violations that included giving pills to students, interfering with the hiring of a principal, owing over $400,000 in state and federal income taxes and losing control of the team.”

Valdosta hired him anyway, this after the Wildcats’ January 2020 firing of Alan Rodemaker, who won a state title in 2016. (Both Rodemaker and his wife have filed suit.) Todd Holcomb, who writes for the AJC, citing a deposition, reported that Nelson said that he asked Propst how much funny money was needed. Said Nelson: “He goes, ‘I don’t know; $15,000. I always need to keep at least $10,000 cash right here in my desk drawer.’”

You’re familiar with the six degrees of Kevin Bacon. So far as we can tell, the “Footloose” star has nothing to do with funny money. There is, however, someone who ticks every box. Jeremy Pruitt coached under Propst at Hoover; coached under Nick Saban at Alabama; coached under Mark Richt at Georgia and replaced Kirby Smart, who’d moved to Georgia as head coach, as Alabama’s defensive coordinator.

Tennessee just fired Pruitt, who’d underperformed as head coach, with cause, meaning the Volunteers won’t pay a buyout. The school believes NCAA rules were breached on Pruitt’s watch. Fancy that.

Back to Nelson: He has become persona non grata in Valdosta for his recorded revelations. He’s no longer the head of the Touchdown Club. For an interview with ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, the two met in Ashburn, which sits between Arabi and Tifton on I-75. Their rendezvous point was a chicken-fingers place. (Ray Goff was among the first Zaxby’s licensees.)

Nalson had traveled north with an escort, identified by Schlabach as “an assistant coach from a nearby high school.” (Couldn’t be Lowndes, could it?) To Schlabach, Nelson said: “Hey, I’m Nub! Shake my nub.”

Yes, there’s a story. When Nelson was 13, Schlabach writes, “he was trying to cross a road while riding a horse and failed to see a pickup truck coming.” His right arm was amputated below the elbow.

Apologies if this sounds indelicate, but that recalls the most famous explanation in the annals of Southern sports. During the 1987 SEC tournament at the old Omni, Alabama basketball coach Wimp Sanderson was asked the genesis of his nickname. He said, “I was named Winfrey after an uncle who blocked a punt and died shortly thereafter.”

A few years ago, a podcast about an Alabama man became all the rage. It was euphemistically titled “S-Town.” I hated it. It seemed a case of clever Northerners chuckling at us goofy Southerners. But this I do declare: I’d listen to a podcast hosted by Nub Nelson every day and twice on Sundays.