July 14, 2013

Chris Whitfield: South Georgia suits successful Propst just fine

— Hardcore high school football fans were aware of Rush Propst before he became famous to a wider group. With consistent success during 25 years as a head coach in Alabama and Georgia, Propst has always been well known in coaching circles and to some fans across the South.

But for another generation and a wider audience of followers, Propst is that MTV coach. During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the network’s cameras followed Propst and his players at Alabama powerhouse Hoover High School, where he won five state championships in seven years with the Buccaneers. The resulting reality show, “Two-A-Days,” was a success for MTV, and Propst and Hoover — a Birmingham suburb — became nationally known.

But allegations of grade tampering, playing of an ineligible player that resulted in forfeits and the admission by Propst of having an extramarital affair led him to resign after the 2007 season. The next year, he was on the sidelines at Colquitt County in South Georgia, and in a short time, he has led the Packers back to the top of the state’s highest classification.

During the past four years, the Packers have advanced to at least the Class 6A state semifinals each season; all four of their season-ending losses have come at the hands of the eventual state champion.

“We are doing everything you can do, except win a state championship and consistently beat Valdosta and Lowndes,” Propst said Saturday at Christian Heritage during The Daily Citizen’s Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship.

Playing in the same region with Valdosta, Lowndes and Camden County — each of which have been a state powerhouse at some point — would be a challenge for most teams, and it has been for the Packers. They’ve made the playoffs in four of five seasons under Propst, but have yet to win a region title during his tenure, meaning they haven’t had the chance to host deep into the postseason.

But they have played deep into the postseason, which means they have also proven they can get the job done on the road. Colquitt County has won 11 away games in the state playoffs over the past four years.

It’s a reputation that Propst could do without.

“You can win two or three on the road, but you get on that third or fourth road trip and it is about impossible,” Propst said. “Our goal is to get some home playoff games. We are 11-3 on the road in the playoffs, but we are 2-0 at home.”

Region 1 in the state’s highest classification — the Georgia High School Association expanded from five to six classifications last year— has fairly earned being referred to as the Southeastern Conference of high school football.

“It is the most competitive region I have ever been in top to bottom,” he said. “Without question it is the SEC of high school football. We don’t have the legacy of Alabama or LSU. That is Valdosta and Lowndes and we do not have that kind of tradition. Valdosta has 24 state titles. Lowndes has five. We’ve only got one state title (won in 1994). I feel like we are the South Carolina in the SEC East or the Texas A&M in the SEC West.”

Propst has done his share of winning, though, going 45-22 in his five seasons in Moultrie to push his career record to 228-77 — and he said he has found a home in Colquitt County.

“I enjoy coaching the South Georgia kids. They are special kids to me,” he said. “You can coach them hard and demand a lot from them and most of the time they will not let you down. There aren’t a lot of distractions in areas like Moultrie and Tifton and Kingsland. Football is king. Small towns all across the state will pack a stadium on Friday night. That is the passion you get at a school like Colquitt County.”

It is his own passion that many critics of Propst point to from the MTV series. He was criticized for his harsh demeanor and his demanding coaching style.

“I am an intense man and I coach hard,” he said. “I am a competitor, and I want to win. If you stick a (microphone) on someone 24-7 that is just the way it is going to be.

“It doesn’t bother me that people think of me as the ‘Two-A-Days’ coach. I thought the MTV show was outstanding and it brought a new level of popularity to high school football to reach into a generation and a demographic that might not have really cared about the sport. It got a little more drama in the second season, but the first season was a lot of high school football.”

Since those days at Hoover, Propst has had to deal with other challenges off the field as well, including battling stage 4 throat cancer.

But through it all, Propst is happy in Moultrie.

“It has really been refreshing to be at Colquitt,” he said. “I love it. My family loves it. I like hunting and the small-town atmosphere. I am a country boy. Hoover was just a step in my life that I enjoyed, but I really like where I am now. Football is football.”

Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at chriswhitfield@daltoncitizen.com.