FLORENCE – Fisher DeBerry put his honor of being inducted into the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame in the most eloquent small-town manner.
“As I used to tell my players, ‘If you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, he didn’t get up there by himself,’” said DeBerry, a Cheraw native. “Somebody had to put him there.’ It was a complete team effort by a lot of people to put me on the fence post.”
You can’t help but chuckle at DeBerry’s small-town charm.
He doesn’t mind because it’s a part of home.
And home is where the heart is.
Home is also what Florence’s Charlie Brown and Lamar’s Levon Kirkland will reflect upon when they too are inducted as part of the five-man class at 7 p.m. today at Greenville’s Hyatt Regency. The other honorees are Doc Blanchard (the first junior to win the Heisman Trophy at Army) and Dick Sheridan (former Furman and North Carolina State coach).
DeBerry, the 1985 Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year who guided the Air Force Academy to 17 winning seasons and 12 bowl games from 1984 to 2006, started coaching as a football assistant and baseball coach at Bennettsville (1962). Then he was a football assistant and baseball coach at Florence’s McClenaghan (’63-’66). He was also a football and baseball star at Wofford who later coached Florence Post 1 American Legion baseball.
Growing up in a single-parent home, DeBerry leaned upon his extended family to help him chase his dreams.
“If it weren’t for the sacrifices of my grandmother and mother and the influence from the coaches and college coaches they had made, I don’t know where I’d be today,” said DeBerry.
He was already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame and Florence Athletic Hall of Fame, and that’s proof enough that dreams come true.
DeBerry, who guided the Falcons to six wins in their 12 bowl appearances, is again trying to let it sink in he’s going into another prestigious Hall.
“Well, you know, I’m very humbled and very honored,” said DeBerry.“To be selected by the football hall is certainly quite an honor, and it’s very much appreciated.”
DeBerry and his wife of more than 50 years, LuAnn, alternate living in either the Charleston area and Oklahoma. Nowadays, DeBerry and his wife spearhead the Fisher DeBerry Foundation, which helps pay to send children to sport camps and other activities.
Brown, a Charleston native who lives in Florence and was once football coach at Kingstree, made the most of his NFL rookie season by scoring the touchdown that all but sealed the Washington Redskins’ Super Bowl XVII victory against Miami.
He can remember that scoring play. But he’ll also cherish what that win meant.
“I remember just the jubilation of all the teammates around me after sealing the game,” said Brown, who worked as a consultant to Marlboro County’s football team last fall. “Knowing we were world champions, knowing we were the best that year in pro football. There’s nothing like it.”
But there was also nothing like growing up with his family in the Charleston area.
“I’d say it was the upbringing I remember the most,” said Brown. “I never forgot where I came from with the support from family. My upbringing was so important in the low country and the state of South Carolina. You go elsewhere, and people’s upbringing is totally different. You just appreciate everything your state stands for.”
Brown starred at South Carolina State before playing for not only the Redskins but also the Atlanta Falcons.
Brown was a two-time Pro Bowl selection with 3,548 receiving yards for 25 scores in the NFL. But being from South Carolina makes him the most proud.
“It’s always special because I have a lot of pride in the state of South Carolina. This is where I was born and raised,” Brown said. “I truly think we have some of the best athletes in the country, and just to be a part of the group being inducted it’s a big honor.”
Kirkland, who was in Kentucky on Tuesday visiting his daughter , will also have plenty to reflect upon while keeping his eyes upward.
His parents, as well as his wife, have died.
They’ll be in his thoughts today.
“I think you always reflect when you get honored and presented with an award,” said Kirkland.
Kirkland starred at Lamar and Clemson and enjoyed a stellar career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s even on the NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team.
Also a two-time Pro Bowl pick and member of Clemson’s Hall of Fame, Kirkland registered 1,029 tackles, 19.5 sacks and 11 interceptions during an 11-year NFL career that also included seasons with Seattle and Philadelphia.
He ended a two-year coaching internship last fall with the Arizona Cardinals.
“I think you always kind of reflect on how you got here and reflect on my career and life journey on how I got to this spot,” said Kirkland., “I think of who I want to thank and who I want to recognize (tonight).”
Kirkland, who played for Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX against Dallas, especially remembers his time at Lamar.
“I have to give thanks to my family and coaches who were there,” Kirkland said. “It’s about hard work, and my father always taught us about the determination and how that plays a role in your success. He taught us that the only person who could stop us was ourselves. I take the work ethic from everybody in my area because we were hard-working people.”
As it often happens, hard work leads to great rewards.
For Kirkland, this is only the latest. But now what? While living in Arizona, he is open to coaching again.
“I think most people don’t know I’m not coaching with the Cardinals,” Kirkland said. “Of course, I’d be open to it. That’d be an opportunity for me to touch lives and maybe help somebody improve. That’s how I was brought up. Coaching can change your life in a great way.”
The first Blanchard-Rogers trophy will also be presented tonight, and that will go to Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson … Mike Brown, who was agent for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, will be posthumously honored as Humanitarian of the Year. Brown died earlier this year.