Tanner Ennis and Austin Clemons have been virtually inseparable since they were in the first grade and started playing together on the same teams in the Bryan County Recreation Department.
They became friends instantly and it is a friendship which has only grown stronger over time between two young men who have helped lift Bryan County football to unprecedented heights this season.
“He’s a great person, a kind-hearted person and he cares about others,” Ennis replied when asked the first thing that came to mind when he thought of Clemons. “He doesn’t talk bad…he’s a really good kid, doesn’t do anything bad.
“He does everything right, down to lifting weights and in the classroom. I think of Smush [Clemons] as a role model honestly. He’s a really good role model for everyone and a really good friend.”
The two are, of course, more than close friends. They are major reasons why Bryan County has won its first ever region championship in football and will host the school’s first state playoff game Nov. 10 when it faces the winner of Friday night’s East Laurens vs. Jefferson County game.
How the Redskins will fare in the state playoffs is anyone’s guess but there’s no guessing about the Ennis-Clemons relationship. It’s one which will last forever.
“Tanner is my guy,” Clemons said. “We’ve been playing since we were six or seven years old. We’ve always played the same sports and we’ve been on a lot of teams together. And there have been times we’ve been on rival teams.
“With that competition there can only be a bond there,” Clemons said. “Over the past years we’ve grown closer, especially with sports.
“We have not had as many good teams in sports as we would have liked. Because of all that losing—we’re both competitive and don’t like losing—it has pulled us even closer together.”
They’re both leaders although neither is a rah-rah guy. They choose to let their actions do their talking for them.
“Smush is like me,” Ennis said. “We’re quiet people. We don’t really like to talk that much. Our personalities are similar. We like to show it out on the field.
“We’ve done just about everything together. We have a lot of classes together so our relationship is really close. We understand one another.”
Ennis will leave Bryan County High School as perhaps the best all-around athlete in school history: he has been an all-region pick in football, basketball and baseball. He was honorable mention all-state in football last year and a pre-season all-state pick at defensive back by the AJC this year.
Clemons was a key reserve on the school’s 20-win basketball team as a sophomore before missing last year because of the leg injury. Following rehab, he qualified for the state track meet in the shot put and discus last spring.
If all-state selectors have been paying attention Clemons and Ennis both should be first team all-state in addition to being the offensive and defensive players of the year in the region.
Clemons is currently second among the state’s Class A-D1 backs in rushing with 1,192 yards despite missing one game with a shoulder injury and getting only eight carries in last week’s 66-8 win over Savannah. He also has 72 tackles at linebacker, second only to Ennis’ 96.
Ennis plays safety primarily but has also excelled at linebacker playing next to Clemons. He is the team’s leading receiver with 10 catches for 186 yards and four touchdowns. He has nine carries for 95 yards.
“He’s the reason we’re so good,” Coach Cherard Freeman said of Clemons. “They’re both special kids who say and do the right things. They care about their team and their teammates.
“They remind me of the characters Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell in ‘Remember The Titans,’” Freeman said. “They aren’t the type of leaders who get on their teammates. They just set the example to follow by doing everything the right way.”
Both are going to get the chance to play college football. And they have definite ideas of what they’ll be looking for.
“I want to be a chemical engineer,” Ennis said. “I’m hoping for a school with good academics. My mom’s an educator so I want a degree first. That’s the first thing and then a school I can rely on. Where they put me and my best interests first.”
Having gone through a strenuous rehab Clemons got some ideas as to what he would like to do. And the kind of football program he wants to be a part of.
“I want to major in sports medicine,” Clemons said. “I want a school with that program. Then what’s their football like, how have they been doing. I don’t want to go through another rebuilding process like high school.”