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The recent resignation of Ernie Hughes as head football coach at Andrew Jackson marks the end of an coaching era in Lancaster County.
Hughes has been working high school football sidelines for 35 seasons. Over a third of that time was spent in Lancaster County.
Hughes also served as the head football coach at neighboring Buford High School. A Winnsboro native, Hughes guided the Jackets from 1989-1994.
He served as the Volunteers’ football coach from 2003 to this past fall.
Coupled with his stay at AJ, Hughes was 70-61 in those 11 seasons with nine postseason bids.
An intense coach, Hughes had a knack of getting the most out of his players.
At Buford, he led the Jackets to new heights not experienced in nearly 30 years. His first season in 1989 saw BHS go 6-5, giving the eastern Lancaster County school its first winning seasin in 10 years.
That was just the tip of the iceberg at the crossroads. Hughes guided the Jackets to five winning seasons, highlighted by a school-record 12-2 mark in 1993. The Jackets compiled a 50-26 mark in Hughes’ six seasons at Buford. BHS won its first-ever Class A Upper State football championship and finished as the Class A state runner-up in 1993.
The Jackets captured the Conference III-A 1993 crown, BHS’s first football title in 22 years. Hughes left BHS for Lugoff-Elgin in Kershaw County and continued to work his magic.
Prior to Hughes’ arrival, the Demons had won only five games in the previous five seasons.
Hughes, in football terms, ran a reverse with the Demons’ fortunes. He led L-E to seven straight postseason appearances, which included two seasons as deep as the third round.
Prior to coming to AJ, he coached at Keenan High School in Columbia.
Upon his arrival, Hughes faced a major task since the Vols hadn’t had a winning season since 1997.
He made some headway, but the Vols were unable to produce success on a consistent basis.
“I am disappointed we were unable to turn the football program around for whatever reasons,” Hughes said earlier this year.
It should be noted during Hughes’ five-year tenure at AJ, a member of the Vols’ conference either won or played for the state title the last four seasons. Cheraw was the state runner-up for two years before winning it all this fall. In 2004, Hughes’ second year at AJ, Central of Pageland captured the state crown.
Hughes wouldn’t dwell on the past, looking only to the future.
No matter who gets the call as AJ’s ninth football coach in 39 seasons, Hughes will have a link. Twenty of 22 starters will be back in Vols’ orange next season.
“I’ll be back on my feet,” Hughes said.
So will the Volunteers.
It’s a matter of pride.
Hughes didn’t make his mark here without inspiring others to give their best.