“I guess it’s because I was the first one,” said the former Eagles football coach and athletics director.
Daggett spent 16 seasons as coach after Josey was built in 1964. While his career record when he retired after the 1979 season was just 55-81-3, his impact on the Eagles’ program went well beyond the won-loss record.
“He basically had the same influence that Coach (David) Dupree had at Laney,” said current Josey athletics director John Noah. “He took care of those boys and girls, and they’re still talking about him 40 years later.”
In fact, “Uncle Hank,” as many of his players called him, was pretty much the only name seriously considered when Josey’s alumni association decided to name the new football facility. The Henry R. Daggett Fieldhouse will be dedicated at 3 p.m. Saturday before the 6 p.m. kickoff against rival Laney.
“He’s the right man for this honor,” said Richmond County Superior Court Judge Carl Brown Jr., who was part of the first student body at Josey in 1964 and took physical education from Daggett. “He earned the right to be honored with this.”
Daggett, 84, kind of laughs at the attention being paid to him. The Garden City Classic weekend began with a banquet and roast in his honor Thursday night at Thankful Baptist Church.
“I appreciate it,” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t think too much about it, but it’s all right. I just found out last week.”
In a coaching career that included only three winning seasons and four more at .500, Daggett joked that he didn’t have any “fondest memory” of coaching the Eagles. Building a program about a mile away from an already-established football power was no easy task.
“It was tough because everybody was whooping your butt,” he said.
Laney was Josey’s main rival, and Daggett was already feeding Dupree’s Wildcats with players he coached in middle school at A.R. Johnson right next door.
“The first thing he said to us was he was preparing us to play for Laney,” said Tyrone Butler, who played for Daggett at both Johnson and Josey. “It was the only black school in Augusta until they built Josey.”
After grooming many of the kids for both schools, Daggett was as surprised as his players when he got the call to be Josey’s first coach.
“It was hard,” he said of the start-up task. “You had to get ’em together because everybody wanted to go to Laney. Some were disappointed. Some didn’t want to go, but others wanted to go because they had brothers and sisters and mommies and daddies go to Laney, you know. Most of the boys went there, and they kicked my butt.”
Said Butler: “We were disappointed we weren’t going with some of our friends to Laney. But Josey had air-conditioning and Laney didn’t. We would brag about that.”
Other than the AC – which until this new fieldhouse never benefitted the football team – Daggett was certainly dealt a tough hand. Laney had created a football championship tradition before Josey ever existed, winning state titles in the all-black Georgia Interscholastic Association in 1961-62 and adding another in 1966.
But Daggett’s Eagles presented an immediate challenge to the Wildcats when they met for the first time on Oct. 30, 1964. Josey was 4-0 and coming off a victory to Center High, of Waycross, Ga., the only team that had beaten Laney all season. In the first intercity clash since A.R. Johnson High and Haines Institute merged to form Laney in 1949, the only thing mentioned in the newspaper the day after was a “fracus” [sic] among some fans in attendance. Laney, however, won as it has often in a series the Wildcats lead 31-14.
Two years later they met again both harboring hopes for a state title. Unbeaten Laney won 13-12 and went on to win its third GIA championship while Josey finished the season 5-2-1.
“It was the biggest game I’d ever played in,” said Butler, a member of Josey’s first team who now runs the Augusta Mini Theatre. “It was always the biggest game.”
Through 16 seasons, Daggett’s Eagles took their lumps from Dupree’s Wildcats, getting shut out eight times by Laney and never scoring more than two touchdowns against its rival.
But Daggett had two moments of glory against Laney. In 1967, Jerry Wilson scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns from 19 and 34 yards to rally Josey from a 14-2 deficit. The Eagles recovered a fumble inside their own 10-yard line in the closing minutes to preserve a 15-14 victory against the defending state champs.
In 1973, Josey seemed set to break a 6-6 tie with a late field goal. But Daggett called a fake instead, and Ceaser Curry drove Laney’s defense over the goal line for a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining.
“We had some pretty good teams,” Daggett said.
More than the teams, former players and students remember “Uncle Hank” as a father figure and disciplinarian.
“He was a true leader on and off the field,” Brown said. “He dedicated his life to shaping and molding young men and women.”
On Saturday, the school will dedicate something back to him.