Lugoff-Elgin head football coach Matthew Campbell has his own Wikipedia page, and perhaps it needs to be updated.
It mentions his exploits from his days as a tight end for the University of South Carolina. The page points out the fact he was a member of the inaugural Carolina Panthers team back in 1995. It notes his 80 NFL games played and his 63 starts. There's mention of coaching positions, from his time as the offensive coordinator at VMI to his current role as the head football coach and athletic director at Lugoff-Elgin High School.
What's missing is one of the most important football years and plays of his life: a touchdown catch in the closing minutes of the 1989 Upper State championship that sent North Augusta to the state title game, which the Yellow Jackets won.
It also neglects to mention one of the more bold declarations put out by an athlete. Campbell long proclaimed – even after the sixth game of the '89 season when the team was 0-6 – that the plan was to win a state championship that year.
Not only does the missing moment embody Campbell, in many ways it embodies North Augusta: a proud football town with a never-quit attitude.
“People laughed, but we believed it,” said Tommy DeGennaro, an offensive lineman on the team who's now on staff at South Aiken. “It was so engrained in us that we were going to do well that nothing was going to dissuade us from achieving our goal.”
“I don't recall, but I know that was engrained in my head,” Campbell said with a laugh. “Coach (Bill) Utsey was such an outstanding coach and motivator.”
It was Utsey's third season as the head coach when the Yellow Jackets broke through for the title, but the head coach knew as soon as he arrived in North Augusta what the football tradition meant to the community. After all, the only thing he heard about when he arrived was Cally Gault, the North Augusta coaching legend. But Utsey loved every minute of it.
“You could sense the North Augusta community was hungry to return to that tradition that Cally Gault set back in the 50s and 60s,” Utsey said. “It was just amazing the feeling you'd get in the town."
In many ways, North Augusta is kind of like one of those football towns that's meant to have its story told in a book. It would have chapters on several champions; it would have the legends who went on to play professionally. It would definitely have an extended section about Gault and his impact on the community and football program before going on to coach at Presbyterian College for 19 years.
But usually towns so steeped in success wouldn't also have the underdog story to go along with it. Thanks to the 1989 team, North Augusta does.
It was the teams in the late 80s that signaled that North Augusta was getting back on track after a lull early in the decade.
Utsey is quick to tell you that it wasn't because of him, however. He says it was assistants like Mike Snyder, Joe Long, Gerry Saggus, Neal Smith and Al Lown – all North Augusta graduates – who were “the machine” that made the Yellow Jackets successful.
“You could sense the pride in North Augusta and expectations those coaches were setting for the players,” Utsey said. “They were locked in. Tradition takes you far.”
“It would be easy for a team to give up, but the way Coach Utsey and the staff just kept us focused, on task and driving, we just weren't going to be denied,” Campbell said. “That was North Augusta.”
The roller coaster started before the 0-6 start with an injury to one of the best players on the team, Tywaun Tillman. Then came the numerous agonizingly close losses. Then, once the Yellow Jackets started winning they suffered setbacks, namely blowing a 21-0 lead against Midland Valley in a loss to the rival late in the regular season.
Through it all, the players just kept in mind that they wanted to live up to the tradition of the program.
“Growing up in North Augusta you always heard the stories of how great it was,” said DeGennaro. “Coach Utsey really played on the tradition of North Augusta and taught us what it meant to play for North Augusta.”
Football in North Augusta carries a deeper meaning to some. Utsey said he's a prime example of how that atmosphere can impact someone. The coach, who's held jobs in the Charleston area, in Columbia and in Greenville, said there's no place like North Augusta. He still proclaims that he got more out of the football community than the football community got out of him.
“If you can tell, I still get excited about it, because it was a tremendous experience for me,” Utsey said. “I hold it dear to my heart. I live in Clemson now, but my heart's always in North Augusta."