Michael Highsmith of Barnwell High School was honored with an Outstanding Service Award for 30 years in the profession by the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association.
The honor was bestowed last month at the annual coach's banquet in Greenville.
"It's a great honor and a privilege for me to be associated with a great group of coaches and to have coached such wonderful players over the years," Highsmith said. "It's hard to believe I've been doing this for 30 years."
For Highsmith, a lot has changed since he huddled with his first group of football players in 1983.
In those days, two-a-day workouts in full pads were pretty much mandatory and asking for water breaks was a sign of weakness.
"The players now are good, but back then the players were really tough. I mean tough," a laughing Highsmith said. "As far as the game itself, there's not a lot that has changed. You still have to block and tackle to be successful."
"Back then, there were a lot more players playing both sides of the ball. Now, the game is more technical with the new rules. More focus is put on players' safety and that's a good thing,"said Highsmith.
Highsmith, a 1981 graduate of Barnwell High played football for Warhorse legendary coach Mac Wier during his junior and senior years.
Splitting time at both quarterback and tailback, Highsmith ran for over 2,500 yards in two seasons.
"Michael Highsmith was the best skilled player I had when I got here in 1979. He was a hard-working young man and very coachable," said Wier.
After attending Baptist College, Highsmith returned to Barnwell High where he got a coaching job under Wier.
"I wanted Highsmith as a coach because he has all the characteristic you look for in a winner," Wier said.
"He came on our staff and did a good job with the receivers and defense. Highsmith is very demanding and he does a very good job of getting the most out of his players."
Highsmith was part of Wier's staff for 16 years. During that run, BHS advanced to the state finals four years and brought home two state crowns.
Highsmith's first coordinator job came in 1999 under then Barnwell High head coach Dwayne Garrick, who took over the program after Wier retired.
"I wanted Highsmith because he knows what it takes to win. He is very knowledgeable about the game and a great motivator for kids," Garrick said.
Highsmith has held several coaching positions during his career, including middle boys basketball, head boys track and field and head boys varsity basketball. Highsmith won state championships in track and field in 1995 and ‘99.
When it came to coaching, no one was exempt-not even at home- from Highsmith's standards of commitment to excellence.
Highsmith's elder son Marcus Rivera played middle school basketball and varsity football under Highsmith.
Rivera said as far as his dad is concerned," the standard is the standard."
"My dad is very competitive and he always has the players' best interest at heart," Rivera said.
"Playing for him meant a lot of pressure at times because he was such a good athlete in high school. I remember one time we were playing Wade Hampton in football. I missed a tackle against one of their fast running backs. My dad called time out and asked me how I missed that tackle. I told him that the player was fast and he responded, ‘ You're my son, aren't you? That meant I was supposed to make that play."
Players who Highsmith coaches over the years include James Highsmith, Henry Taylor, Bru Pender, Shelby Hammond, Ray Stacklin, John Edwards, Mike Jones, Hardee "Burger King" Sanders, Mark Saylor, Tyler Dean, Richard Sherman and current Barnwell High head coach Eddie Moore.
Highsmith said thanks also goes to his siblings, James Stark Highsmith, George Highsmith, Larry Highsmith and Tunzy Highsmith.
"For me, it's not about the money, It's about doing something I love. If I wasn't coaching, I don't know what else I'd be doing," said Highsmith.
Highsmith is married to Jannie Highsmith of Barnwell. He has three children, Emily Highsmith, Antone Highsmith, Marcus Rivera; and five grandchildren.
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