Butch Jacobs has never felt the pinch job most would construe as job pressure.
Not from the lofty expectations set by a rabid Silver Bluff football community that grew accustomed to life at the summit, following consecutive South Carolina state titles in 1990-91.
Not from Thomsonites with similar hopes, whose dreams remain centered around a return to the glory days, when the Bulldogs won back-to-back Georgia championships in 1984-85.
None of that ever gets to Jacobs. The only pressure he swears he has ever felt comes directly from the source.
"Every game is like a life or death situation, and it comes only from the pressure I put on myself," says Jacobs, Thomson's fourth-year head football coach. "I can't say I've ever felt it from the community but, as a football coach, you go through life judged by the product on the field. You put pressure on yourself to live up to that. That's what makes you a football coach."
At 3-0, Thomson has whetted the appetites of its die hard fans this season with its best start since Jacobs took over in 1993.
For Jacobs, he expects the fervor to be heightened tonight, as the Bulldogs travel to face their greatest rival, Burke County (2-0). Always the year's big games, no mat ter how good or bad the teams have been over the years, this year's contest is different, particularly for Jacobs. This year, there's more riding on the game than civic pride.
"This is, without question, a very big game," Jacobs says. "We're off to a nice start, and this is no doubt the best team I've had here. We're looking to stay undefeated in the region, but there are no guarantees. Burke can bring all we've already achieved to a screeching halt."
So far at Thomson, the success has been marginal by Jacobs' standards. The Columbia, S.C., native posted a 42-11 record in four seasons at Silver Bluff. Thomson went 21-14 the past three seasons, making the state playoffs twice - '93 and '94. Though he never regretted leaving Silver Bluff, Jacobs admits those first couple of years at Thomson weren't easy.
"It wasn't anything to do with Thomson, I was happy about the situation here right from the start," Jacobs says. "But not being from Georgia, I felt I had to prove myself every day."
Jacobs recalls one of his earliest experiences on the West side of the river as one of the most trying moments of his career.
"I knew one coach in Georgia, it was Tom Temple (the former Burke coach who committed suicide in 1993)," he says. "He introduced me to the Georgia coaches at a coaching clinic the summer of my first year at Thomson. I think about five of them said to me `I hear you were real successful in South Carolina. But now, you're in Georgia.'Call it state pride or whatever, but that wasn't easy."
Now, a team loaded with returning stars like senior fullback Freddie Germany, junior running back Terrell Roberts and junior linebackers Tremayne Story, Marco Ramsey and Rodney Neal, the Dogs look to improve to 4-0 and keep pace in a region headlined by Class AAA champion Josey. More importantly, Jacobs finally has the type of football team he had grown accustomed to.
"Everyone here's excited about this football team," Jacobs says. "This is a a great team, and there are so many positive things happening. Thomson is now becoming very similar to Silver Bluff. The people here hate for me to compare the two, and I try as little as possible to let Silver Bluff come out of my mouth. But that's what it's starting to feel like."
Neal, who leads a Thomson defense that has keyed the team's three victories in tackles, with 29, has no problem with his coach comparing these Bulldogs to those other Bulldogs he coached to such success.
"He's made us believers in ourselves," Neal says of Jacobs. "Coach talks about how this is the first team at Thomson that has played only for him, and we've been building toward this year. He's brought us a long way and, now, we believe we can have the kind of success Thomson used to have, and like the success he had at Silver Bluff."
Even with an improved Burke team led by first-year coach Mike Falleur on the immediate front, and mighty Josey in their not too distant sites, all the pressure in the world won't spoil the fun for Jacobs.
"Football means a great deal to me, and these kids are very special," Jacobs says. "I love being around them, and I think they know I care. Sure, there's always gonna be pressure from somewhere, because coaches are judged by the by-product rather than the product. The by-product is wins and losses. The real product is the kids. Turning them into mature, responsible adults. Of course, I want to win, but I'd rather be the guy who is the best teacher and person and go 2-8, than be the SOB who wins everything."