Playing for Farnham

Shrine Bowl assistant coach George Harrelson and Blue Ridge's J.J. Booker watch a play during practice.
Shrine Bowl assistant coach George Harrelson and Blue Ridge's J.J. Booker watch a play during practice.

ROEBUCK -- Blue Ridge running back J.J. Booker didn't hesitate when asked what his late coach, David Farnham, meant to him.

"Father," Booker said. "He was a second father."

Booker had finished up morning practice at Dorman High School with his Shrine Bowl teammates from South Carolina on Wednesday. Farnham was supposed to be leading the Sandlappers in their annual all-star game against the top seniors from North Carolina.

Farnham gave up his post in October after he was diagnosed with cancer, a disease that took his life Nov. 28.

"It was pretty tough when we heard that he passed away," said Booker, Blue Ridge's only representative on the team. "We know that he wanted us to continue on with our lives, but still remember him, though. It's been hard, but we're getting over the hump."

South Carolina's Shrine Bowl coaching staff, led by Orangeburg-Wilkinson's Reggie Kennedy, talked to the players about Farnham's life and commitment to students.

Farnham was an offensive lineman at Clemson before spending more than three decades in high school athletics. He'd been at Blue Ridge the past four years and had led the team to a 7-0 start. The Tigers eventually reached the second round of the Class AAA playoffs before falling to Greenville.

Blue Ridge assistant George Harrelson was picked by Farnham to take over as the Tigers' coach and to finish Farnham's work on the Shrine Bowl team. "To me, this is the first time I was selected to coach an all-star game," Harrelson said. "He left me a gift."

Kennedy, in his second season at O-W, had only met the 57-year-old Farnham in February. But Kennedy was quickly impressed. "He knew how to get the best out of" student-athletes, Kennedy said.

Kennedy dedicated South Carolina's performance in Saturday's game at Spartanburg's Gibbs Stadium to Farnham.

Harrelson said all Blue Ridge players, along with Farnham's family, will attend.

"He was the best," Wilson coach Darryl Page shouted to Harrelson.

"That's right, coach, he was," Harrelson replied.

Farnham was a graduate of Travelers Rest before playing at Clemson. He was a coach for 26 years, also holding positions at Westminster, Palmetto, Carolina and Wade Hampton (G). He was the offensive coordinator at Greer in 2003 when the school won the Class AAA state championship.

Summerville's Reid McCollum, a Shrine Bowl quarterback, said players have come to know Farnham in talks with coaches. "We're out here doing something that we love" and Farnham would want them working hard to have success, McCollum said.

Harrelson said Blue Ridge struggled a bit after Farnham, who had dealt with headaches and dizziness throughout the season, had to walk away. The team lost its final three games heading into the playoffs.

But Harrelson and the other assistants urged the players to keep their focus -- as Farnham would've wanted.

"The kids had him on their minds," Harrelson said. "But we all got together and said, 'Look, let's pull together now.' The coaches did their part, the players did their part to try and keep it going for him."

The Blue Ridge football Web page starts with a picture of Farnham surrounded by his players. Above it are the words, "In Loving Memory of our Fighting Tiger, Coach David Farnham."

Harrelson expects some permanent remembrance of Farnham at Blue Ridge, but said the plans "are just in the starting stage."

Booker, the Blue Ridge runner, doesn't need anything like that to recall his former coach. "He loved his team. He loved everyone around him," Booker said. "He brought a smile to everybody's face."

• When: 1 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Gibbs Stadium, Spartanburg

• Tickets: $10 in advance or by calling (803) 547-0300; $15 at the gate

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