Very few families have made as many contributions to the success of high school sports in Lyons as three generations of the Benton family. Bill Benton is currently the athletic director and head wrestling coach at Toombs County High School and his sons Bradley and Bryan won a combined six state championships in wrestling while also making significant contributions to the football and baseball programs. Bradley was the head wrestling coach at TCHS for three seasons. However, the Benton legacy began over 60 years ago with father and grandfather Billy.
In 1956 Billy Benton was the best player on a Lyons High team which improved from 3-7 to 7-4-1. “I played running back and defensive back,” Benton told coach Randy Callahan in a Y-101 interview. “Those years when I played you played both ways.” Billy led the Bulldogs to the playoffs after regular season wins over Claxton, Glennville, Metter, ECI, Jenkins County and Reidsville. In the region finals at Dublin Lyons defeated Peryy 16-6 before losing to 4th ranked Blakely-Union 25-14 in Lyons.
When the season was over Billy received quite an honor as he was named First Team All-State by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Our school back then was a Class B School and it was kind of unusual for a Class B kid to get selected to an honor like that,” Benton said. “I was also selected to play in the All-Star game in Atlanta. I went up there and broke my hand. In those years when you broke your hand and had a cast on you didn’t get to play. So, that ended my high school career.”
Billy Benton football career didn’t end at the high school level. Instead he moved on to play for one of the winningest coaches in the history of major college football. A man who won 377 games and two national championships. However, when Billy played for this coach very few knew who he was. This football legend grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. He played at Woodlawn High School and the University of Alabama before transferring to Howard University (now Samford University). This coach started his career as an assistant at Howard in 1954 before taking his first head coaching job at South Georgia College in 1956. For four seasons before returning to his alma mater as the head coach, this young man was the football and baseball coach at South Georgia and he also coached boys P.E.
This coach eventually made his name as head coach at West Virginia (1970-75) and then Florida State (1976-2009). That’s right Billy Benton, from Lyons Georgia played for Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden. In his four years at South Georgia Bowden won two state junior college championships and finished second and third.
“I always wanted to play college football. Coach Bowden at that time was even a winner then. He had super ethics and he taught us right from wrong on the field and off the field. I considered it a privilege to play for him. At that time I suspected that he would be great in his endeavors on further from South Georgia, but I never knew he would be as great as he was,” Benton said with a little laugh.
Bowden and Benton reconnected many years later. “I went down to one of the reunions. He comes to South Georgia once a year. I hadn’t been there in 50-years. I went up to him and said coach Bowden, I am Billy Benton. He looked at me and said do you own half of Lyons by now. He remembered I was from Lyons, Georgia. Now that’s remarkable. After all the kids he had coached that he would remember where I was from.”
Listen to the rest of the interview
Read more about Bobby Bowden’s days coaching at South Georgia
On Sunday, December 9 Billy and his grandson Bryan will be inducted into the Toombs County Athletic Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be held in the Toombs County Auditorium beginning at 2 p.m. and everybody is invited and welcome to watch the second class of 18 being honored.
Other 2018 inductees
Lyons Industrial School
Lyons High School
Lyons Senior High School
Toombs Central High School
Coach Bill Warren
David Bell Jr.
Toombs County High School