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If there were any doubts that Colquitt County (Moultrie, Ga.)
was serious about winning a first mythical national championship, it showed spilling from the forehead of its lightning rod head coach Rush Propst last week during a 52-31 Georgia 6A semifinal win over Mill Creek.
It was bright red.
Propst, one of the most passionate and polarizing figures in high school football, head-butted his standout kicker Luis Martinez
on the sideline after a bad kick. Propst was wearing nothing but a white visor. Martinez had his helmet on.
The kicker won that battle.
Blood poured from the head of the 57-year-old coach
, who continued to bark at anyone who would listen.
"We were playing like crap," Propst said by phone Wednesday night. "After the head-butt I think we allowed two first downs and won going away. I might have to head-butt someone every time if we get results like that."
Propst said the blood didn't result from the head-butt but when he turned his head, a small pin from another player's helmet poked a blood vessel.
"Didn't need a stitch or band-aid or nothing. Strangest thing."
Propst and players could laugh about it four days later, though he admitted "Some community leaders didn't think it was so funny right away."
But hey, no harm, no foul.
Besides, this was a parking ticket compared to the 10-car pileup he left behind at his previous coaching gig in Hoover (Ala.) in 2007, which included sordid allegations and admissions, both on and off the field. What wasn't revealed nationally during MTV's popular "Two-A-Days," reality TV show in 2005 and 2006 was disclosed fully during a 2013 ESPN E:60 investigative piece entitled "Friday Night Lies."
Without reservation, Propst fesses up to it all. His life has been probed, dissected and cooked for all the public to see and judge.
Despite his communal shame and regret, Propst remains a wide-open book, a man quite comfortable in his own skin — even if it is bloodied from a head-butt – and one of the country's top high school coaches.
A grueling and ongoing battle with Stage 4 throat cancer has humbled the man, who says simply "I wasn't a good person at Hoover. I'm so grateful to be given a second chance to be a better person, husband and father here. I think if you talk to my wife and children, even my first wife, I think they'll tell you I am all those things." "Best coach in Georgia"
He's never stopped being a good football coach.
He won five state titles at Hoover, has won 279 and lost 83 overall in 27 seasons (.770 winning percentage), and last season, his seventh at Colquitt County, he won a first Georgia state title after five eliminations in either the finals or semifinals against the eventual champion.
Longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution prep football writer Todd Holcomb has been impressed with Propst's ability to make the most out of what he has.
"He's probably the best coach in Georgia, especially offensively," Holcomb said. "He really uses his talent well."
His Packers, No. 3 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Football Rankings presented by the Army National Guard, go for their second-straight state crown and 30th-straight victory overall Saturday against No. 10 Roswell (Ga.)
in the National Game of the Week.
If Colquitt County (14-0) wins, it will be only the third school in Georgia history to go unbeaten twice in a row in the highest class. The others are Parkview (2000-02) and Valdosta (1960-62). Propst thinks a convincing victory over a Top 10 national team like Rosewell should propel the Packers to a national title.
Their two previous opponents, Mill Creek (Hoschton)
and South Forsyth (Cumming)
, were a combined 24-2. Turn up the volume
"Football is just exploding in Georgia," Propst said. "I've talked with Nick Saban and Will Muschamp and Ed Orgeron and all agree, nobody is playing football any better than kids in Georgia. Not California, not Texas and not Florida."
What Propst loves about this team is its quality depth.
"This is a team of great volume," he said. "We just have a lot of good football players everywhere. We don't have any five-star kids, but a couple four-star players, and bunches of two- and three-star guys. We have 40 seniors and tons of depth and speed."
(Tennessee) and uncommitted Shaun Bonner
(6-foot-3, 250 pounds) lead the band of top recruits.
"Between the time it's all said and done, we'll send 20 kids off this team to college somewhere," said Propst, including head-butted kicker Martinez, who is 14 of 16 on field goals this season.
Another scholarship player is quarterback Chase Parrish
, who has completed 209 of 304 passes for 3,195 yards and 39 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. He has several strong weapons catching passes, including Kiel Pollard
(70 catches, 1,083 yards, 18 TDs) and Qwazavia "Ty" Lee
(47, 805, 9), who is also the team's leading rusher at 736 yards on just 74 carries.
Parrish has been ill this week and is expected to play Saturday, but if not, capable backup Jay Saunders
will fill in.
"First off, we haven't lost with Chase at quarterback," Propst said. "He's a great kid and a great leader. But if he can't go, we can win still win a state title with Jay Saunders. He's a second Johnny Manziel."
No matter who shows up, Propst will make the most of it, Holcomb said.
"They don't have a great running back this year, but he's used Pollard and Lee in the backfield in the wildcat and on sweeps, especially on the goal line," Holcomb said. "He's never had a great quarterback, but the ones he has are very well-coached and clutch.
"There are four or five other teams with similar talent, but he gets everything out of it."
The same could be said for his life off the field. Suck it up
He thanks his wife and children, both the Colquitt County and Hoover communities, and three close friends during his cancer treatment — former Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, current Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin and his cousin Aaron Acker — for pulling him through.
"All offered nothing but love and support," he said.
His low point was a few months after 35 radiation treatments. Alone one afternoon, in bed, sick and depleted, he wondered if he could go on. Out of the blue, Acker, a survivor of throat cancer as well, called Propst.
"He told me it was like football, man," Propst said. "He said ‘Sometimes you've got to suck it up. It's hell and it's tough and I know you're exhausted, but get up out of bed and do something. Anything. Walk once around the house.'"
That's what Propst did.
"Once. That's all I could do," he said.
The next day he walked twice around the house and the day after that, three times. Day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month he regained his strength and now he's thriving in all areas.
He makes a hefty base salary of $123,904, lives in a "beautiful giant home," and the relationship between he and his six children — three from his current wife and three from his ex-wife — "has never been better."
"I've had a great life and great career," he said. "But I'm not done by any stretch. I'd like to coach another seven to 10 years and coach my younger children."