Because I've spent much of my 54 years associated with Thomson High football, either as a fan or a coach, I get asked some questions from time to time that are difficult to answer. Often, I'm asked to compare the 1984 and 2002 state championship teams. It's hard to compare teams from two eras, but in an attempt to be honest and tactful, I say that though the 2002 team was more athletic overall, the 1984 Bulldogs were the toughest group of kids I ever had the privilege to coach. The bottom line is that I would sleep on a bed of nails the entire season if I could coach either of those groups again. However, one question that I honestly can't answer is this: Who was the best defensive player you ever coached? There have been many great players, and though I can't answer that question, I enjoy talking about Jesse Hatcher, who was one of the best I ever coached and has made me proud of his great accomplishments on and off the field.
Jesse played inside LB, but his size was more suited to outside LB in college. He was given a battle field promotion at the end of his sophomore year in 1982 and started the last few games of the season when a starter was injured. I remember him being the leading tackler in two of those games.
In 1983, he started all 12 games on a team that finished 10-2 but was denied a state playoff berth when it lost to Glenn Hills in the region championship game. Today, that team would probably have advanced at least to the third round of the state playoffs.
In 1984, Jesse and junior LB Jerry Winfrey led our defense with 149 and 148 tackles, respectively, on the way to Thomson's first state championship since 1968. Jesse would have three interceptions and numerous sacks.
Of all the excellent linebackers that I was privileged to coach, he had the best knack for blitzing and was often on the QB before he could get set to pass. Despite making the AAA all-state team and being invited to play in the Georgia High School All-Star game, Jesse had only one firm scholarship offer from a very small four-year school. Jesse was an excellent student, but colleges were wary of his slender frame. He stood 6'2," but weighed only about 185. They failed to measure his heart and consider his speed. I remember getting sarcastic with current Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson when he, as a Georgia Southern assistant, told me he couldn't sign Jesse. He was good enough to play anywhere.
After spending two years at Taft Junior College in California, Jesse had several offers from major colleges and chose to join the Clemson Tigers, coached by the legendary Danny Ford. He played outside LB at Clemson in 1987 and 1988 on two excellent teams. Clemson's record while Jesse played there was 20-4. In his senior season Jesse received several great honors. He was given the R.F. Poole Award as the Outstanding Defensive Player in the annual Clemson-South Carolina game. He was also named Most Valuable Defensive Player in Clemson's victory in the Citrus Bowl and was second team All Atlantic Coast Conference.
After an unsuccessful professional tryout with the Seattle Seahawks, Jesse returned to Clemson and received his degree. Life after football has been good to Jesse because of his belief in hard work and commitment.
He recently retired as a colonel in the National Guard. For the last 14 years has worked with the Deloitte Corp. and has become a full partner. They are one of the largest consulting firms in the world, and Jesse travels to several continents to train companies in how to inspire commitment in their employees and help them reach their full potential.
Jesse, who lives in Florence, S.C., with his family grew up in the Strawberry Hill area of Thomson. Unlike many athletes he never let football use him. He used football to get a free college education, and it has opened up a world of success for him. Another great thing about Jesse is he has never forgotten where he came from.