Calhoun football has turned the page to a new chapter in its historic epoch. In the three months since longtime head coach Hal Lamb’s decision to retire, Calhoun High School is full steam ahead with a new man at the helm: Clay Stephenson.
Stephenson and Lamb’s connection goes back many years. The two first met when Stephenson was a 15-year-old at Upson-Lee High School in Thomaston.
“He’s definitely a father figure for me,” Stephenson said. “He coached me in high school back in his first head coaching at Upson-Lee (High School) so he’s been a big part of my life since I was 15 years old. He’s a guy I have the utmost respect and admiration for.”
Under Lamb, Stephenson served 15 years as the wide receivers coach for Yellow Jacket football. But the news of Lamb’s retirement rocked not only the football program, but the Calhoun community as well.
“It’s a shock to myself, the coaches, the players and the community as well,” Stephenson said. “He’s been a part of this community for 20 years …, so it was definitely a shocking thing for everyone to go through at first.”
Stephenson said he addressed the team the day after Lamb’s retirement was reported and noted mixed emotions on the player’s faces.
“I could see it in their eyes,” Stephenson said. “Some were sad, some were mad, some were confused and then there were some excited for the new opportunity. I told them all … you’ve got until Monday to get past all those emotions, and whatever they are, we’ve got to put those behind us and get to work Monday.”
Stephenson said at first, he was excited about being named the next head coach of Calhoun football, but then feelings of sadness and nervousness crept in due to Lamb’s retirement.
“There are expectations anywhere, but to be the head coach at Calhoun football, it’s a seat that I’ve always had the utmost respect for,” Stephenson said. “It’s a role I knew couldn’t be taken lightly. When I heard I was going to be the head coach, a bunch of emotions all went through (me).”
Despite the emotions, Stephenson noted the well-insulated support system around him.
“It’s definitely not a job of one person,” Stephenson said. “We’ve got the kids still in place … and we’ve also got awesome assistant coaches. We definitely have one of the best coaching staffs in the state.”
Stephenson said he and his assistant coaches have formed lasting relationships during his tenure at Calhoun High School.
“Assistant coaches don’t get the credit that they need sometimes,” Stephenson said. “You can’t do it by yourself. The friendships and relationships I have with those guys helps out, not just with the football stuff, but in all of our personal lives as well.”
Stephenson said the transition has been an easier one due to the change coming from within the program, so despite the change at the top of the hierarchy, much of the core stays in place.
“Obviously, you’re losing a great … leader like Coach Lamb, but everything else is going to be familiar,” Stephenson said. “We’re going still do the same things and still keep the pillars of the program the same. We’re going to work hard … and hold (the kids) to a high standard that we have here at Calhoun.”
That high standard should be on display come the fall, when the Jackets once again take the field at Phil Reeve Stadium.
“The No. 1 thing the community wants to see is a good product on Friday nights,” Stephenson said. “With the awesome assistant coaches … and kids that we have, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to continue to put that product out for many years to come.”
On the more personal side, Stephenson has lived in Calhoun for the last 15 years and said he initially moved to the area due to greater opportunities, but came to realize the spectacle of Friday night football in Calhoun.
“It’s a very special place in that it’s not just about football,” Stephenson said. “Now I’m raising a family here, so it was a great place to come and put down my roots.”
Together with his wife, Hope, the couple have a 4-year-old son named Tucker.
Stephenson loves playing golf and guitar. As an avid golfer, he expressed interest in taking his son to The Masters one day.
Stephenson said the most important lesson from Lamb was putting priorities in order.
“How he puts his faith, family and then football comes after that,” Stephenson said. “That’s something I’ve always looked up to him for. I’ve got 4-year-old now and I’m hoping I’m instilling those same values in him as I saw Coach Lamb put into his two sons and his wife.”
Faith, family and football. The three components that shape the man now ready to lead Calhoun football, both on and off the field.