MOULTRIE – Ben Wiggins recalls a conversation he had with his then quarterbacks coach, Tim Kelshaw, while playing football at Colquitt County High.
“I’m sure he doesn’t remember,” Wiggins said recently. “But he told me he thought I should consider teaching and coaching.”
Wiggins has taken the suggestion to heart and is in his 26th year as an educator this year when he returned to his hometown to run Colquitt County’s schools.
And speaking recently about his years as a player, coach and administrator, he seems to have more fun recognizing those who made him successful than in those achievements themselves.
Many of those who so influenced him were those he played for as a teenager and young man and with whom he later trained.
Like many others who have witnessed his athletic and academic success, Wiggins can point to those who promoted him when his skills first became apparent.
Darrell Strange, David “Bull” Durham and longtime Moultrie Leisure Director Jim Buck Goff were among his youth football coaches.
And he played recreational baseball for future Colquitt County Sports Hall of Fame youth coach Steve Fitzgerald.
As an eighth grader, he played the revered Roy Saturday, also a future member of the Hall of Fame.
A pre-eminent football and baseball player for the Packers, he learned the games of Kelshaw, his quarterbacks coach, Jim Hughes, Brent Brock, James Stancil, Jerry Croft, and others.
“I’ve had a lot of really good coaches who got things right,” said Wiggins. “They trained us hard and they loved us very much. You taught us that it’s really important to win and lose with class.
“And I think the reason I got into training was because of its influence on me.”
Wiggins was the quarterback for the 1987 and 1988 Colquitt County Football Teams. Everyone went 6-5.
Especially offensively, the game was very different three decades ago.
In two seasons, Wiggins threw only 336 passes, completed 138 of them for 1,788 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He was first-team quarterback in his senior season of the All-Region 1-AAAA South first team but only attracted two scholarship offers.
One was from Samford University, where Brock had taken him to a soccer game the summer before his senior season.
Wiggins chose to accept Samford’s offer, which will make the transition from Division III to Division 1 AA football.
The decision earned him the opportunity to play for head coach Terry Bowden and quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher.
Bowden, of course, became head coach at Auburn, and Fisher succeeded Bobby Bowden at Florida State.
The Bulldogs were 6-4-1 in his sophomore year, but when he was a junior, Wiggins led Samford to a 12-2 record and the national semifinals.
Samford went 9-3 in his senior season.
“I was incredibly blessed to spend my college years there and grow up to be a young man,” said Wiggins. “I keep repeating so many things (Bowden and Fisher) used to say.”
He particularly remembers Fisher begging his players to “trust your eyes” and not “overthink”.
And: “Things are never as good as they seem and not as bad as they seem.”
After graduating from Samford, where he met his future wife Jana, who was also studying there, Wiggins returned to Colquitt County, where he taught and worked as an assistant football coach and under Mike Singletary as an offensive coordinator.
In 2002 he gave up coaching and accepted Headmaster Melton Callahan’s offer to become Deputy Headmaster.
Wiggins said Callahan and another former Colquitt County director, Bob Jones, continue to be mentors.
“They both took me under their wing,” said Wiggins.
In 2009, Wiggins took the position of principal at Pelham High School, which at the time was in the state’s second poorest district in terms of millage rate, he said.
“That really forced me to learn a lot about finance in school districts,” he said.
While working in Pelham, he befriended Phillip Brown, the director of North Oconee High School, who spoke to him about the school system there.
When the principal of Oconee High School retired, Wiggins applied for and accepted the principal position in 2014.
Wiggins considers the Oconee school system to be one of the best in the state and credits much of its success to superintendent Jason Branch.
It was Branch who convinced Wiggins that he should consider becoming superintendent himself
“I thought I was finishing my career in Oconee County,” said Wiggins. “He was one of those people who overwhelmed me and encouraged me to look for opportunities.
“I’m still in regular contact with him.”
In 2020 he returned to South Georgia as Superintendent of the Thomasville School System.
He took the job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
In May, when Doug Howell, another former Packer football player, retired, Wiggins returned to his hometown to replace him.
During his education career, Wiggins served on the board and president of both the Georgia Association of Education Leaders (GAEL) and the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals.
He is a strong advocate of athletics and other after-school activities.
“I think what is special about athletics is that it helps kids deal with adversity and learn that things are worth working for that are worth working hard for,” he said.
And this lesson applies to other activities as well.
Wiggins pointed out the time and energy students put into other sports like gymnastics and wrestling, and activities like band, FFA, and others.
He also commends teachers who take the time after the final bell to give time and build relationships with students in all extracurricular areas.