Barney Hester didn’t know much about how to lead a football team.
The man who is synonymous with Tattnall Square had little preparation when he was handed the keys to his first football program.
Hester, then just 22, was named the head coach at Josey Academy in East Dublin. He served as an assistant for one season at Josey, but he took over the program the next year while he was still in college.
Some of Hester’s players that first season were just three years younger than him. It made it nearly impossible to command any respect from his players. Thirty-seven years later, Hester has the respect of every player he coaches and every coach he goes up against. Hester will try to earn his 300th career victory Friday when the Trojans host Dominion Christian at 7:30 p.m.
“I had no idea that I would ever be in this position,” Hester said. “I think a lot of credit goes to my players and assistant coaches. This is certainly not something you can do on your own.”
Hester found that out at Josey.
With little support and resources, Hester took over as the head coach with little idea of how to be a head coach. Hester tried his best to shape the Warriors into a respectable football team in 1974, his first year as the head coach.
1974: Josey Academy 26, Barnesville Academy 0
Hester started his career off on the right foot with a win over Barnesville in his debut. It was the lone bright spot for the Warriors, who were shut out four times that season and finished with a 1-9 record, which is tied for the Hester’s worst season in 36 years as a head coach.
“I didn’t know what I was doing out there,” Hester said. “I wasn’t ready to lead. I probably didn’t have much respect. I was learning on the job every week.”
Josey improved in his three years as its head coach. He won six games during the next two years, before taking over as the head coach at Gordon-Ivey in Wilkinson County in 1977.
“I had a lot of fun in those years,” Hester said. “I was a kid myself. We got off to a good start, but we didn’t win a whole lot.”
After that start at Josey Academy, Hester had no idea what would become of his career. He didn’t think realistically about state championships in those early years; playoff games would have been nice. He certainly did not foresee the success he would ultimately have at Tattnall.
2007: Tattnall Square 42, Pinewood Christian 0
Hester never has gotten comfortable with the idea of being the favorite. Even after winning 283 games or 10 state championships at Tattnall.
Hester coaches each game with the mind-set that his team can be beat. Fear motivates him.
“I think we won’t look ahead, no matter who we are playing,” Hester said. “There is so much that can go wrong on a Friday night. We take every opponent very seriously, prepare for the first game the same way we would a state championship game.”
So Tattnall refused to dismiss Pinewood Christian in the 2007 state championship despite most people believing the Trojans wouldn’t struggle against the Patriots.
Hester led an undefeated team on a 15-game winning streak into the game. The Trojans hadn’t allowed a team within 20 points in more than two months. But Hester believed it was fully possible his team could lose.
“I’m a little scared every time I walk on the field,” Hester said.
The Trojans didn’t struggle at all that night as an emerging star in sophomore DeAndre Smelter took over and scored three touchdowns in the blowout win.
After taking the early lead, the game was about as good as won. Hester rarely losses when his teams jump out to an early lead.
“His teams have a killer instinct that not many teams have,” Mount de Sales head coach Robert Slocum said. “Once he steps on the field, he instills that in his players.”
That wasn’t always the case at Tattnall.
1982: Riverview Academy 21, Tattnall 7; Tattnall 14, Mount de Sales 12
Hester believed his stint at Tattnall would be a short one.
He arrived after one year on Erk Russell’s staff at Georgia Southern.
Hester was a different coach in 1982 than the one who patrolled the sidelines at Josey and Gordon-Ivey. He spent every second around Russell he could, soaking up every bit of knowledge from the former Georgia defensive coordinator.
Russell taught Hester about discipline on the football field, how to understand the bigger picture of running a program and how to deal with players. He also shaped Hester’s philosophy. The Trojans would run the option out of the I-formation just like the Eagles. They would lift weights and outwork and out-muscle opponents.
All of those ideas came in handy the day Hester stepped on campus.
In 1982, Tattnall looked like a different school than the one that exists today at Wesleyan Drive. There were a few buildings, some modular trailers and a field for practice. The Trojans played football games at Henderson Stadium and Porter Stadium. They had a lot of Thursday and Saturday games those first few years.
Hester’s first game at Tattnall came on a Thursday night against Riverview Academy. Hester remembers the ending vividly. Late in the game, the Trojans were driving for a late score when they were flagged after a running back threw up and spit out his mouthpiece.
“Not a great start, but pretty memorable,” Hester.
But it was not as memorable as the second game.
Going up against Mount de Sales and veteran head coach Mike Garvin, Hester wasn’t sure his Trojans would stand much of a chance. The Cavaliers were in their second year after leaving the GHSA for the GISA, and they beat Tattnall 29-0, in 1981.
The smallest of Macon’s “Big Four” private schools at the time, however, shocked the Cavaliers when the Trojans scored following a fumble recovery late in the game in a 14-12 win.
“There ain’t no way we’re supposed to win that game,” Hester said. “It let us get an idea of what we could be.”
Hester believed he’d stay for a few years and catch on with one of Russell’s assistants when they branched off. But starting a family and building the program at Tattnall changed things.
Tattnall went 6-4 that season, the first winning season in Hester’s career. He had only one more losing season — 2004 — in the following 29 years.
1988: Tattnall 16, FPD 9
Hester has had plenty of memorable games in his career.
The Trojans trailed Westwood on a rain-soaked field in the 1990 state championship game before they rallied for an 18-12 win and a third state championship in a row.
There are the two classic championships games between Mount de Sales and Tattnall in 1996 and 1997 that go down as two of the most exciting games in league history.
“I don’t think any of us go very long without thinking about those games,” Slocum said. “We’ve had some special games against each other.”
Tattnall scrapped the “I-bone” once during Hester’s tenure in favor of the wishbone. The Trojans were stomped by Gatewood in a scrimmage and immediately went back to their comfortable offense just days before the season started. They still won the state championship.
But maybe the most important game for Tattnall came in the 1988 state championship game.
The Trojans had gotten as deep as the semifinals in the playoffs before, but they finally broke through with an 18-13 win over Westfield to play for that first state championship.
Hester remembers huddling with assistant coach Larry Dudley following the win over the Hornets to celebrate advancing to their first championship game.
“We were pretty excited,” Hester said.
With a stomach in their knots, Hester led his team onto the football field against FPD on Dec. 2, 1988. The Trojans beat FPD 14-12 in the season opener for both games back in September of that season.
Tattnall got its own football stadium that year, so the excitement of having an on-campus stadium culminated that Friday night. The Telegraph reported more than 3,500 fans that night on campus.
“I’ve never seen so many people on this campus as that night,” Hester said. “It was a nerve-wracking night but obviously very memorable.”
Quarterback Todd Mickler took over the game by rushing for 266 yards and two touchdowns and kicking an extra point and a field goal in the 16-9 win.
The championship, the first of any kind for the school, was important. But the game stands out now for a different reason. It marked the start of an unprecedented 11-year run for the Trojans in which they won seven championships.
All of the work that Hester poured into the program in the early years paid off. The football program went from dormant to a winner to a championship winner to a dynasty with Hester as the architect. Tattnall was 40-24-2 in Hester’s first six years. After the 1988 championship game, Tattnall went 128-18-2 in the next 11 seasons.
“That was the night I thought we arrived,” Hester said. “That was the game where we really turned the corner and brought the expectations we’ve had here since.”