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Friday night lights in Richmond Hill
Shirley Says
Eight sets of brothers help make up the Wildcats football team: back row from left, Ben Beeson, Connor Beeson, Josh Bryant, Logan Bryan (not pictured), Sean Balas, Andy Balas, Richard Cohen, Quinton Cohen (not pictured) and Michael Ahmay; and front from left, Logan Rooker, Canon Rooker, Cody Harris, Gabriel Harris (not pictured), Keller Owens, Lance Owens and Chris Ahmay - photo by Photo by Shirley Hiers
High school football is a popular spectator sport. It allows people to sit in the stands close to the action. Oftentimes, those who watch high school football games attended the school themselves, and they feel a certain degree of ownership of the team. They remember the past and think back to the “good ol’ days.”
Richmond Hill High School’s football team, the Wildcats, is everything its name conveys – strength, speed and bravery.
It not only takes skill and training, but also heart and desire to play football. Either you want it badly or you don’t. High school football is a tough sport, and an emotional one, too.
Most spectators see only the results on Friday night. What goes on before kick-off is what makes it all come together. The players have attained an astonishing level of endurance.
Richmond Hill High School’s football coach Lyman Guy said, “It is a tough and physical game. If there is a lack of preparation, it can mean embarrassment or injury.
“The game of football was created by young men after the Civil War. Their older peers went to war and they had no war to go to in order of proving themselves, as their older peers. Thus, the game of football was created so young men can prove themselves.”
When I graduated from RHHS in the 1960s, we didn’t have a football team. I’m naturally intrigued by what motivates a young man to play this grueling, hard-hitting game. Is one born with the desire or is it learned?
The Wildcats allowed me into their “sacred den” a mere hour before their last game of the season Friday. The atmosphere was electrifying – highly charged with anticipation and jaw-tightened determination.
It was apparent these tough, physically fit young men were getting focused and ready to tackle the job for which they had been trained. The scene was like the calm before the storm and all hell was about to break loose.
Despite their unspoken strategically planned attack, I was overwhelmed by their gentle manner with me. So much power and adrenaline in one room, yet they sat easily beside me as if they had nothing else to do.
Guy commented on the team’s demeanor: “It’s difficult to explain. It is the ultimate test of controlling their emotions before a very exciting moment.”
Interestingly, I discovered there are eight sets of brothers on the Wildcat team. Jimmy Hires said he had never heard of anything like this before in all of his years of coaching.

Heredity or environment?
Cody Harris likes the camaraderie of the football team.
“When we walk on the field, we know we’re going to look out for each other,” he said.
Cody said he believes the desire to play football is an acquired taste. “It’s not like coming out of the womb with a football in your hand.”
Connor Beeson said, “I was born with a natural aggression. For me, it’s natural to love the game. When I walk on the field, it’s an intense rush. As we get closer to game time, I get more level-headed and focus on my responsibility.”
The Wildcats’ running back, Tyrrell Morrise, had this to say: “I believe some people are naturally born with a desire to play and some pick up the inspiration from others.”
What is his mentality when he walks on the field?
“For that period of time, nothing else matters,” he said. “It’s you at your best, doing what you’ve been trained to do.”
Although Tyrrell knew the clock was ticking down to kick-off, he patiently continued talking with me.
“On the field, it’s almost like you’re on a different planet – you’re in the zone,” he said. “Playing football does not make you an animal … yet it can bring out the animal in you. There, you can be a monster … a totally different person.”
Tyrrell said he doesn’t hear the cheering crowds while he’s playing.
“You are so focused,” he said. “You know they’re there, but you don’t hear them.”
Eli Thompson commented on the crowd: “I only hear them when the play stops.”
He sees the Wildcats as a brotherhood and believes one is born with the desire to be competitive. This 190-pound quarterback plans to go to college after graduation and become a pediatrician.
Derek Wierwille, a RHHS Wildcat and senior, has what it takes to play football. When he was a freshman at RHHS, Coach Scholar encouraged him to play football. But that may not be as simple as it sounds.
When Derek was 3 weeks old, he suffered a stroke. His left side was affected, and he was told physical therapy was the needed course of action. Exercise, commitment and willpower make all the difference in overcoming the effects of a stroke.
Derek underwent muscle transfer surgeries in his arm and leg when he was 5 years old. At the age of 12, he had a wrist fusion surgery. That gave him more control of his left hand and arm.
Diane, Derek’s Mom, said, “His love for the game of football has been unwavering since he was in a walker watching the NFL on TV. He’s been involved with soccer, baseball, and has earned three belt levels in Karate; however, football has always been his love.
 “Derek’s teammates have been nothing short of wonderful in their friendship and support,” she continued. “From helping with suiting up for a game (not able to tie the pants or cleats), to just the support of being part of the team, Richmond Hill players, past and present are the greatest! They are like brothers to Derek.
“Coaches, teammates and the Richmond Hill community have played a big part in Derek’s outlook on life. ‘Thank you’ just doesn’t seem to say enough.”
During Derek’s sophomore year, he played football with Josh Davis, who was then a senior. Diane said, “Josh and Derek are friends. Josh has been around the field and always encouraged Derek. He’s someone Derek looks up to.”
Derek commented, “Josh and my other teammates knew I couldn’t do a lot of the activities they were doing. It was difficult for me to do everything, whether in the weight room or on the football field. I never gave up or quit when things got difficult for me.
“Josh and the team got me through tough times with encouraging words,” he continued. “They would say, ‘Come on Derek, you can do it.’ Their encouragement made me wants to try harder.”
Josh said he has much respect for Derek.
“Derek says we did a lot for him, but we feel he did a lot for us,” Josh said. “His drive made us want to go harder.
“Like Tyrrell, I’m a different person on the field. When the lights come on, so do I.”
Josh played football at RHHS for four years. He has played one year at Savannah State University. He plans to return to Savannah State in January after completing the fall semester at Valdosta State.
The Wildcats were victorious Friday night.
“It was a good win,” Guy said. “This season was the most wins since coach McGrath’s team won in 1996. This season was a season of laying a foundation for building the future for the Wildcat football.”
Friday night Derek was at the top of his game.
“It was really hard knowing it was my last time stepping on the field at RHHS as a player,” he said. “Coach Scholar saw I was upset and crying before the game and at halftime. He tried to cheer me up and make me happy. He said after graduation he and Coach Guy want me to help out with the team.”
Thankful for the opportunity, Derek added, “I’m glad the football coaches at RHHS still want me to be a part of the team, even though I can’t play anymore. Coach Guy is a great coach. He always wants us to put God first in life.”
Derek’s inspiring story of hope and resilience proves with faith, determination, and heart, one can overcome any obstacle life throws your way. He’s definitely a young man who has his priorities in order.

Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill. She can be reached at

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