Farris, Jackson lead Thorsby turnaround

Published 8:20 pm Friday, January 7, 2011

With Farris, left, at quarterback and Jackson coaching, Thorsby won eight games just two years removed from a winless season.

Andrew Farris, an undersized sophomore, had never before played in an organized game of football, and there he was, running onto the field as the starting quarterback for the Thorsby football team.

The Rebels lost, 28-0, on Aug. 29, 2008, at Verbena. In fact, they lost all 10 games they played that season, and none were closer than 25 points.

The following summer, Billy Jackson was having his rounds of golf interrupted by head-shaking acquaintances, wondering why he had agreed to become head football coach at Thorsby.

Now, the two are basking in the memories of one of the greatest seasons in Thorsby football history—and are The Clanton Advertiser’s coach and player of the year.

The Rebels won eight games in 2010, tying a school record, and earned their first playoff berth since 2003.

The formula: Jackson and his coaching staff transformed the team’s mindset; and a group of players, including Farris, made a commitment to improving and hit their peaks during their senior seasons.

“That first year (2008) was pretty rough, I think everybody would say that,” Farris said. “This year, we knew we couldn’t hold anything back, that there wouldn’t be a next year.”

Jackson felt Thorsby’s athletes were content being good at baseball and basketball and learning to accept losing on the football field. That had to change.

“I tell them, ‘If we’re playing checkers, we want Thorsby to be competitive,’” he said.

One of Jackson’s first moves upon becoming coach in 2009 was to put Keith Williams in charge of the team’s strength and conditioning program. Williams spent the better part of most summer days helping the players get faster and stronger.

Jackson rounded out his staff by relinquishing play calling duties to longtime coordinator Corey Clements and promoting Josh Deavers to defensive coordinator.

Jackson’s coach at Chilton County High School, Don Hand, volunteered to help.

But it didn’t stop there. Jackson raves about his staff all working toward one goal—and about the willingness of the Thorsby administration to give the players every opportunity to succeed.

“There’s so many people that have helped this program,” Jackson said.

Still, it would never have happened without the players. Farris, linebacker/center Erick Camarillo, fullback/defensive end Kalup Nunn, receiver Marcus Bray and others formed a group of seniors that bought into the coaching staff’s insistence on hard work as sophomores and reaped the rewards as seniors.

Farris’ accomplishments stood out. He completed 88 passes in 145 attempts for 1,339 yards and 20 touchdowns. Farris rushed for 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns on 129 carries (a 9.3 yards per carry average).

The 37 touchdowns were almost twice as many as Thorsby had as a team (19) in 2009.

And Farris did it all after being diagnosed with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a disease that, while lethal in some cases, required Farris to wear sunglasses and long sleeves during practice, and limited his ability to condition.

But Farris had come too far to turn back.

In eighth grade, before ever putting on a uniform, a teacher asked Farris’ class to write down the things they wanted to do before they graduated from Thorsby. Farris’ response: be the starting quarterback for the football team. The teacher was Jackson.

“He had a baptism by fire,” Jackson said about Farris. “We knew it was going to be difficult that first year. We had to have some growing pains to get to where we are this year.”