Spencer Fortson is in his 11th year as a high school football coach at Newton and currently holds the title of defensive coordinator when he’s not teaching Business Education during the day. A graduate of Elbert County High School and Valdosta State University, Citizen Sports Editor Colin Hubbard caught up with Forston to find out how his life path has led him to Newton.
CH: Where did you go to high school at and what sports did you play there?
SF: I went to Elbert County High School and graduated in 2001. I played football, ran track and did a little bit of wrestling, too. I was a big football player. I started my sophomore year. I waited in line and got the opportunity.
CH: Elbert County has a very rich history of success. Who were some of the coaches while you were there?
SF: My head coach was Mike Falleur. My defensive coordinator, who I still talk to today, was Tommy Gillstrap. He was the defensive coordinator at Roswell and then he came to Buford with John Ford. Now he’s the defensive coordinator at Mill Creek. Don Hudson was my defensive backs coach. He was fresh out of Georgia Southern where they were winning all of those national championships.
CH: What has it been like living out this way compared to growing up in Elberton?
SF: Covington compared to Elberton, man. It’s a whole different world. My kids tell me all the time that there is nothing to do in Covington. I tell them that there is a whole lot to do here. We didn’t have anything to do in Elbert County. When we wanted to go to the movies or wanted to have fun, we had to go to Athens or to Anderson, South Carolina.
CH: I’m sure you had a lot of great mentors and coaches around you growing up.
SF: I wanted to coach because of the great men that I had around me. I had a lot of father figures around me. I had a coach, Tom Howell who picked me up every morning for morning workouts at Elbert. One morning I decided that I wasn’t going. My mom tried to wake me up, but I laid back down. Next thing I know, the covers got snatched up off of me I looked up and it was coach Howell. He said get up and I said alright. It was right there that I realized I wasn’t going to have any days off. That was my mindset.
CH: You had the opportunity to play football at the next level. Was that something that you always had a goal to do?
SF: I played football because I loved the game. It wasn’t to the point where I felt like I’d get something from the game. It was my passion. I had been playing ever since I was eight years old. It was one of those things where I came to school every day and couldn’t wait to go to practice. I wasn’t looking for an athletic scholarship. It just happened.
CH: What college did you end up choosing to go to?
SF: I ended up going to Valdosta State in 2001 and was there until 2005. I was a part of the first national championship. It was the same scenario in high school where I had to wait my turn.
CH: I heard you had a pretty historic group of coaches while you were down at Valdosta State.
SF: Kirby Smart was my defensive backs coach. Before I got there, Will Muschamp was the defensive coordinator. Will ended up leaving when I got there that fall, so Kirby ended up being the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach and left that following year. Year after year, I had a different defensive backs coach. My junior and senior year, I had Ryan Shirley, who was Kevin Shirley’s brother.
CH: When did you have an opportunity to work yourself into the rotation as a starter on defense?
SF: My junior year was like my biggest year. I ended up playing a whole lot. I was behind a senior and I ended up beating him out on several occasions. He started some games and I started some games.
CH: What was the path to winning a national championship in 2004 like?
SF: Going into 2004, we lost to Albany State in the first game of the season, a team that we never lost to. They were pretty good that year. There were rumors around the school that we were going to have a down year. But the guys that I had been playing with for the past three years, we thought differently. So we lost that first game and then went straight undefeated until we met Albany State again in the quarterfinals.
CH: Were you guys able to get your revenge against Albany State the second time around?
SF: We were back in the same situation that we were in the beginning. We were down 24-0 going into halftime. It was one of those games where we were just messing up the little things. We got back to the locker room and the coaches were talking and the head coach came in told the coaches to get out. He said listen. You guys got yourself in this mess. We’re not changing anything. You’re going to get yourself out. We went back out there in the second half and won the game 38-24. They didn’t put anymore points on the board.
CH: Did that victory spring you guys to the national championship game that year?
SF: We went on to the national championship against Pittsburgh State. They were undefeated. They beat one team 99-7 that year. They were averaging 60 points per game. We ended up going down 14-0. We went into halftime 14-14 and won the game to bring the first national championship there.
CH: Did you try to go into coaching right away after graduating from Valdosta State?
SF: After I finished playing football, I became a video assistant there. I did that for one year and tried to work my way up the ranks. Coach Chris Hatcher ended up leaving and going to Georgia Southern and I tried to get on with coach David Dean and it didn’t work out to where I’d be able to become a graduate assistant. I ended up interviewing for a high school job at Westover High School in Albany, Georgia in 2008.
CH: Did you only coach football while you were at Westover?
SF: I was a volunteer football coach. I got hired as a web design teacher at Westover. Jeff Caldwell was the head football coach and I went to talk to him about coaching. He let me volunteer. That’s how much I love football. You didn’t have to pay me. I coached football there for one year and they asked me to coach girls soccer. I didn’t know anything about girls soccer.I didn’t know what I was doing. All I was doing was managing and I had the former head coach’s wife helping me out. We made it to the second round of the playoffs.
CH: How did you eventually make your way up to Newton?
SF: I left there after one year and came to Newton in 2009 when Nick Collins was the head coach. I came in as the defensive backs coach. When Cortez Allen took over in 2010, I had to step into the role as defensive coordinator. I got my opportunity. to be a coordinator and I took advantage of it by studying the game and becoming more familiar with different types of defensive schemes.
CH: You were apart of the coaching crew that went to MLK High School for one year, right?
SF: I was here from 2009-13. I took that 1-year stint where I went to MLK with Camiel Grant and Allen. I ended up coming back that following year because I was still in the school building. Coach Terrence Banks and I talked about me coming back and being the defensive coordinator and I’ve been here ever since.
CH: What do you love about coaching at Newton?
SF: I love to get up in the morning and come here to coach these guys. They do what they ask you to do and they play hard for you. They remind me of myself a little. I’m committed to those guys because they’re committed to the process. I’m glad to be here.
CH: Do you have any aspirations of becoming a head coach one day?
SF: To be honest, I’m not in a hurry to become a head coach. If it happens, it happens. If coach Grant will have me, I will stay here as long as I can because he’s a great guy to work for and I’ve learned a lot from him. If the right opportunity comes around, I’ll do it. But it has to be the right opportunity. It would be hard to leave here.