Jeff Highfill and Jimmye Laycock are retiring at season’s end.
During the early part of Franklin County’s preseason workouts, two of J.R. Edwards’ coaching mentors opted to exit the sidelines following swan-song seasons slated for this year.
Edwards played for both: Jeff Highfill at William Byrd and Jimmye Laycock at The College of William & Mary.
Both are veterans of four decades of coaching. Oddly enough, Highfill got his start at Franklin County as the school’s first boys tennis coach and later assisted both Miller Bennington and Ravis (Red) Stickney in football.
Highfill was a head coach at Floyd County (he was 8-14 in two years there) before moving over to William Byrd, where he has won 204 games going into this year.
While at the Vinton school, he also became a successful, decorated boys soccer coach; he played soccer in college.
"Those guys are what football is all about,’’ Edwards said. "They’ve probably forgotten more about football than a lot of us will ever know. They’ve had great careers.’’
Edwards got to match wits against Highfill in preseason games played this year and a season ago. Should FCHS’s expected move to the Blue Ridge District receive a final Virginia High School League (VHSL) blessing next month, the Eagles and the Terriers will become sports rivals across the athletics spectrum for the first time.
"They were able to pick and chose their times when they were ready to (retire). They’re both great coaches and they deserve to do that,’’ Edwards said. "I don’t think the general public understands the hours that drive a head football coach in both high school and college.
"Now, it’s a year-round thing in high school. Most of your college staffs, at least the ones that I’ve been around or have had the privilege to talk to, those guys will be in the office at 6 or 7 in the morning and they won’t leave until midnight. That’s all through in-season and that’s all through the week. That’s hard on a family. That’s brutal on a body. People don’t understand that,’’ Edwards said.
College coaches stay on the road in the offseason with recruiting. Edwards said high school coaches begin preparations for a new year immediately following a campaign-closing loss, whether in the regular season or postseason, or a state championship game win.
"I give the (players) a week-and-a-half, two-week break, and I’m already putting together our weight-room calendar. I’m laying out the schedules, getting ready for the post-season banquet. Then, you’re in to your winter and spring (workouts), your 7-on-7 (tournaments),’’ Edwards said. "If you want to be competitive, you’ve got to go to some of the 7-on-7s and work your skill kids, and you’re still lifting too. In the summer, you’re going again.
"It’s a full grind. You’ve got to love what your doing,’’ Edwards said.
So how did Edwards receive a preferred walk-on opportunity to play at William & Mary in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS)?
"(William & Mary) was out recruiting and I was one of the (players) they looked at in this area,’‘Edwards said.
The Tribe won the Lambert Cup during Edwards’ career (1987-1991). One year, they declined a playoff berth to compete in a bowl game in Japan. At the end of his term, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin came into the program as a freshman.
"I think I was a senior when he came in as a freshman. He was a really good receiver there,’’ Edwards said.
Edwards said it was hard to face off against Highfill each of the last two years even though the games didn’t count.
"I don’t like playing against Coach Highfill just because we have such a good relationship. It’s hard for us to play each other, even in a scrimmage game,’’ Edwards said. "...I was talking to him about the scrimmage on the phone and it’s funny, you describe what you’re going to do to give him an idea and it’s like you’re looking in a mirror, and he laughs. It was the system I grew up with.
"He’s had an unbelievable career,’’ Edwards said. "He’s taught a lot of young men about life. The people at William Byrd are going to realize after he’s gone that they’ve had a heck of a coach.’’
"Those guys are what football is all about. They’ve probably forgotten more about football than a lot of us will ever know...’’
Franklin County head football coach
COACHING RECORDS AT FRANKLIN COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
NAME YEARS RECORD PERCENTAGE BEST SEASON
C.I. Dillon 1950-55 23-24 .489 1951 6-2
Jack Henderson 1956-63 37-35-6 .513 1959 7-2-1
A.C. Glover 1964 5-5 .500 1964 5-5
Richard Foutz 1965-74 38-49-13 .445 1966 7-2-1
Miller Bennington 1975-77 7-23 .233 1976 4-6
Red Stickney 1978-81 15-25 .375 1978 6-4
Benny Gibson 1982-85 14-26 .350 1983-84 4-6
Dean East 1986-89 15-25 .375 1987-88 5-5
Melvin Martin 1990-91 3-17 .150 1990 2-8
Horace Green* 1992-96 10-37 .21 1994-95 3-7
Jerry Little** 1996-99 10-23 .303 1997 4-6
Billy Miles 2000-05 39-24 .619 2002 9-2
Ben Boyd 2006-08 15-15 .500 2006 6-4
Chris Jones 2009-14 36-30 .545 2009-10-11 9-3
J.R. Edwards 2015 8-23 .250 2016 4-6
In 68 years of football, Franklin County has posted a 275-381-19 record for a.422 winning percentage. The school’s best single-seasons by wins are 9-2 in 2002 and 9-3 in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The best record by percentage is 9-2 (.818) in 2002. Of the school’s 15 coaches, nine won their FCHS coaching debuts: C.I. Dillon, Jack Henderson, A.C. Glover, Benny Gibson, Dean East, Jerry Little, Billy Miles, Ben Boyd and Chris Jones. East’s victory in 1986 was a forfeit – it was determined at the end of the season that Laurel Park used an ineligible player. The Lancers won the game on the field, 14-7.
*Green was replaced after seven games in 1996. At the time of his dismissal, FCHS was 2-5.
**Little was named interim head coach for the remainder of the 1996 season and posted a 1-2 mark in three games with a loss to Halifax County, a win over Patrick Henry-Roanoke and a loss to William Fleming. On November 20,1996, he was named head coach and he won his first game of the 1997 season.