SEC ShowdownBy ANTHONY WARREN,
Crosstown rivals to meet in annual grudge match Sept. 7
Two college football standouts will be putting their coaching skills to the test Friday, when the Bruins and the Saints take the field in their annual rivalry matchup.
The game, formerly known as the Holy War, is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, September 7.
This year, the matchup takes on another level of excitement, as both teams are led by former Southeastern Conference (SEC) football players – John Bond and Johnny Nichols.
“We have two fairly high-profile coaches – Emmitt Smith’s best friend and John Bond,” said Kelly Hardwick, former president of the St. Andrew’s Booster Club.
Bond, who is now in his first year at St. Joseph Catholic School, was quarterback at Mississippi State University.
Nichols, now in his second year at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, was backup quarterback and kick holder at the University of Florida. Former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith was best man at Nichols’ wedding.
(Smith, a National Football League hall of famer, and Nichols played high school ball together at a Florida high school.)
Nichols’ assistant, Daryl Owens, also played for the Gators, on the university’s 1996 national championship team.
While Bond and Nichols never played each other in college, the two are eager to meet each other on the football field.
However, both agree that Friday’s matchup isn’t about them, but rather the players and a year’s worth of bragging rights.
“It’s about these kids,” Nichols said. “They all know each other, are friends with each other. They’re the ones who have known each other since elementary school and middle school.”
In Nichols’ first season, the Saints fell to the Bruins 29-7, but bounced back to have a 5-6 season and a berth in the Class 3A playoffs.
In 2017, the Bruins had a 7-5 record and made it to the Class 2A playoffs.
Bond learned about the rivalry on day one.
“Fans, coaches, players – I asked who the big rivalry was and that was the consensus,” he said. “St. Andrew’s is on the back of our minds.”
Senior offensive and defensive lineman Tyler Brown commented on the rivalry early this season, on Bond’s radio show.
“This is definitely one of the most important (games) of the year,” Brown said. “They’re our rival – the team to beat. We’ve beaten them every year since my ninth-grade year, and I want to keep that tradition going.”
St. Joe has won the last three games and leads the series 8-6 in the last 14 meetings, according to Maxpreps.com.
He said when the game starts, it won’t matter where the coaches went to school or how many times St. Joe has won in the past.
“I’m more focused on the game that’s in front of me, and ways to open up holes for the quarterback and receivers to make plays.”
“They don’t need any extra motivation to perform at the highest level,” Hardwick said. “They know it’s going to be competitive and they’re putting forth all their efforts to claim victory.”
Bond was starting quarterback at Mississippi State from 1980 to 1983. As quarterback, he led the team to back-to-back winning seasons and back-to-back bowl appearances – the first time in school history.
He led the team that upset the then number one Alabama Crimson Tide in a game that is often considered to be one of the greatest in college football history.
“We were 5-6 our junior year. We were good offensively, but defensively, people could run up points on us,” he said.
He graduated MSU in 1984 and went on to be an assistant coach at State and Millsaps.
He joined St. Joe this year after former coach Miller Todd stepped down. It is his first head coaching job. Prior to taking the position, he ran his own business and was director of business development for Eutaw Construction.
“I had some friends with kids at the school and when the job came open, they said, ‘dust off your resume,’” he recalled. “It was easy for me, because it was home. I live here in Madison, love the game of football, and St. Joe is a great school with a bunch of great guys playing.”
Nichols played at Florida from 1987 to 1991, under coaches Galen Hall and Steve Spurrier. He was on Spurrier’s first SEC championship team in 1991 and played in the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame.
He came to Mississippi about 2.5 years ago to take a pharmaceutical job and took a volunteer position under former St. Joe head coach Todd Lott.
“I wanted to volunteer in the community and I met with Coach Lott and he offered me the offensive coordinator job,” he said. “He hired me for one year and we made it to the second round of the playoffs.
He applied for the head coaching job at St. Andrew’s after coach David Bradberry stepped down. “I spoke with my wife and said, ‘this is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I applied for it.’ ”
The game starts at 7 p.m., at Bill Raphael Field, on the campus of St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison.
(photo) John Bond, Johnny Nichols