Leroy Ryals had a special treat for his players at Thomasville’s annual football awards banquet on Monday.
The first-year head coach invited distinguished alumnus and University of Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to speak to his 53-man contingent.
“I’ve known Coach Bobo for a long time and he’s a great man,” Ryals said. “We’re very blessed to have him in Thomasville and have that relationship with him and the University of Georgia.”
Bobo, who graduated from Thomasville in 1992 before becoming Georgia’s quarterback from 1994-1997 and assistant coach in 2001, spoke of his passion for the town and how it’s manifested the success he’s built in Athens.
Bobo recalled his first meeting with Georgia head coach Mark Richt within weeks of Richt’s hiring. Bobo was the quarterbacks coach at Jacksonville State in Alabama and had no intent to return to Georgia unless he was hired in a comparable capacity. Nonetheless, Bobo agreed to meet with Richt, bringing his dry erase marker and playbook in tow.
But the 90-minute exchange never reached X’s and O’s as Bobo forecasted. Richt maintained an off-the-field approach, not once discussing draws, depth, blocks or four-wide sets.
“He talked about people, his vision, his family, the program, what he wanted to do at the University of Georgia and how he wanted build it and how he wanted to impact young kids’ lives,” Bobo said. “The reason I’m saying this is because that’s the reason I got into coaching in the first place.”
Bobo’s childhood manifested in Thomasville while his father, George Bobo, coached the Bulldogs from 1984-1993. During his quarterback stint at Thomasville, Mike Bobo set a slew of records — including marks for career passing yards (5,167) and efficiency (55.8 percent), and was named the Georgia High School Player of the Year in 1992.
Bobo said he relied on mentors that instilled virtuous values that remain in his on and off the field coaching repertoire today. He then broached the importance of seeking and heeding advice in capacities such as the one he was speaking.
Ryals said most players mind the guidance of coaches and leaders, but that insights resonate stronger when delivered with prominence. That was a chief rationale in inviting Bobo.
“Any time you hear it from someone else, it will reiterate what we try to teach,” Ryals said. “Any time you can get one little thing from someone like that, you try to take it.”
Ryals said even he drew mental notes during Bobo’s speech, particularly the seven principles Bobo employs at Georgia: leadership, the expectation to win, humility, standards and discipline, embracing life after football, the necessity of sacrifice and finishing the drill.
“I’m not just talking about the drill we do in practice,” Bobo said. “Every thing we set our minds on, we finish. Whether it’s class, an assignment, study hall, a project, game. We play as hard as we can, we do the best we can to finish the drill.”
“Every day, give your dead-level best because there are only 28,000 days in an average lifetime. Make every day count and win the day,” Bobo said.
As Bobo returned to his seat at the center, Ryals whispered a request for a copy of the creed.
“Those are things that you can put up on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror and look at every day,” Ryals said. “Those seven principles carry a long way.”
As Bobo concluded, Ryals interjected to include the alumnus in the award honors. The coach presented Bobo with a Thomasville football helmet penned with signatures of the 2013 team. The idea sparked on Monday morning and required a quick turnaround to ink all autographs.
“When I come up there now, I want to see it,” Ryals said to Bobo, which reaped a rumble of laughter.
Bobo stayed after to snap pictures and sign autographs after the three-hour event before trekking to Valdosta, where he’ll resume recruiting duties with Signing Day approaching on Feb. 5.
Before he left, Bobo met with the Times-Enterprise and shared his insights on the evening.
“It’s a special place to me and my family,” Bobo said of Thomasville. “I lived here most of my childhood. I have a lot of fond memories here with a lot of people in this room. Anytime I get a chance to come back, it means a lot to me.”
“Growing up as a coach’s son, athletics are important. But growing up as a coach’s son in a place like Thomasville, it made my childhood better than I can explain. Really, the only thing I ever wanted to be was like my dad and coach at a place like this that loved football and the community loved each other.”