MONETTA -- When it comes to coaching football, Sam Lilly puts his heart, soul and guts into it.
"I would be miserable not coaching football," Lilly said. "I like making a difference in these kids' lives."
The former Butler High, Georgia Tech and six-year NFL defensive back is now an assistant football coach and girls' and boys' head basketball coach at Ridge Spring-Monetta High School. Lilly, recently named to The Augusta Chronicle's all-time Augusta-area team, drives 96 miles roundtrip from Augusta every day.
Lilly, 32, said his situation at the Class A school is perfect because of a support system that includes the other coaches and his wife, Dana, a Butler graduate whom he married in March.
"It's fun and I got a great wife and that makes a big difference," Lilly said. "She comes to all of our games and she pushes me to watch film every night. I like where I'm at."
In 1995, Lilly led the Curtis Baptist girls' basketball team to the Georgia Independent Schools Association Class AAA title. That team featured sophomores April Steele and Quanda Ball, who helped Richmond Academy to a Class AAA Georgia High School Association state title last season.
Lilly came to Ridge Spring-Monetta last year to become the school's girls' basketball coach, but made an immediate impact on the football team's defense. The Trojans tied Aiken for the area lead with five shutouts last season.
His enthusiasm and belief in the kids have not gone unnoticed, particularly by junior varsity coach Gary Smallen and interim coach McGee. Smallen will resume his duties as the school's head coach next year as he watches his son, Jason Smallen, play his senior season at Batesburg-Leesville.
"Sam is fresh out of the NFL and he is a great role model," Smallen said. "He is a welcome addition to our coaching staff. He can get kids to believe in what he's trying to do. Sometimes he has more confidence that a kid can do something than I do, and then he can get them to do it."
A great example of Lilly's teaching ability is cornerback Rondell Morris. As a junior, Morris had never heard of playing bump-and-run coverage in the secondary. But Lilly taught the technique to Morris and the 5-foot-6, 150-pounder has become a tough defender.
"Maybe because he's only about 5-foot-6 himself," Morris said. "He has defended the best players in the game. So I figured if he could do that, I could handle the guys in high school. I know teams are going to throw to my side because of my height and I want them to."
Both McGee and Smallen point out not only Lilly's great communication skills with kids but his knowledge of football. Lilly talks often with Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen about offensive philosophy.
Friedgen was the San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator when they went to the Super Bowl in 1994 before losing to San Francisco.
Lilly wanted to help out on offense this season because he needed a new challenge.
"He always has good enthusiasm and great knowledge of the game," McGee said. "Sam and I think a lot of the same stuff. We are always on the same page and our personalities don't clash - they go together."