MOULTRIE — Byron Slack’s journey from growing up in Alaska to a high school athletic career in Georgia, to a four-year tour in the U.S. Navy to an All-American performance at West Georgia to his current coaching career is a remarkable one.
Slack and Colquitt County head coach Justin Rogers are both glad it has brought him to Moultrie.
After serving as head football coach at Hillgrove last fall, Slack decided he wanted to return to South Georgia, where he had been the defensive coordinator at Lowndes the three previous seasons.
Rogers gave him an opportunity to coach the defensive linemen and be the assistant head coach and says he has not been disappointed in the decision so far.
“He is good, good, good,” Rogers said Monday. “A great coach. I lean on him.”
Growing up as a youngster in Alaska and later playing football at Terrell County, it was not at all clear that Slack would end up as a respected high school football coach.
Slack’s father was chief master sergeant in the Air Force stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base outside Anchorage, where his son played sports growing up.
Slack’s family moved to Georgia, his mother’s home, in time for him to start high school at Columbia High in Atlanta.
The next three years he spent playing football, basketball and baseball for the Green Wave at Terrell County, but was not impressive enough of an athlete to merit a scholarship offer, he said.
So he joined the U.S. Navy and served four years.
He was determined to go to college, however, and enrolled at the University of West Georgia after his active tour in the Navy.
It was an easy decision, he said. We was not confident about completing the entrance forms, but received help and it made the difference.
“There was no plan B,” he said of his decision to go to West Georgia.
Slack has continued to place an emphasis on education during his coaching career, having earned a master’s and a doctorate degree.
Both Slack and West Georgia benefited from his decision to continue his education.
Playing tight end, he became the school’s first All-American in 1996 and in 2013 was named to its Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I felt very fortunate to have been a college athlete,” he said.
His next stop was Auburn, where he was a graduate assistant working in the weight room and studying for his next degree.
Another young coach at Auburn at the time was Ashley Anders, who later became Tift County’s head coach and also joined the Packers defensive staff this year.
After a two-year stint at Minnesota State, Slack returned to Georgia and worked at Camden County from 2005-2016.
He then went to Lowndes, where he was Randy McPherson’s defensive coordinator for three seasons.
Slack said he has been fortunate to have worked for two of Georgia’s top high school football coaches in Jeff Herron at Camden County and McPherson at Lowndes.
The two have won nine state championships between them.
“Those are two of the best in the country,” Slack said. “I owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Last year, Slack had the opportunity to become the head coach at Hillgrove.
The team went 4-5 during the pandemic season.
But Slack was eager to return to South Georgia, where his wife had remained, working for the board of education in Lowndes County.
He and Frances have been married since 1998. Their son Zion played football at both Camden County and Lowndes and is now a student at Middle Georgia.
Slack said he is glad to be back into more of a “soldier” mode at Colquitt County.
And he is thankful to be able to get a job at Colquitt County and a program he had coached against for many years.
“This is one of the places you would want to land at,” he said. “I have viewed this program from afar and I know the level of commitment from the community and the way things are done here.”
Slack’s first order of business at Colquitt County is to help get the defensive line ready for the 2021 campaign.
He has six players he says he believes will contribute this season, including five who are seniors.
“They know they have big shoes to fill,” Slack said, referring to losses of Zy Brockington to Memphis and Vendarion Knighton to Fort Valley State.
“But I think they are up to it.”
Slack said the way offenses operate in today’s high school game, the more players who can perform, the better.
“We are going to need to keep them fresh,” he said.
The seniors Slack is counting on are Marcus Ponder, Ronald Durham, Quan Gammage, Ontavious Carolina and Milton Barfield.
Slack indicated that Carolina, who played both defensive end and tight end on offense last season, could spend even more time on the defensive side this fall.
He especially likes the potential of junior Julian Harper.
“He is coming on strong,” Slack said of Harper. “He is a contact-seeking guy.”
Slack said the Packers defense will look much the same as it did last year when former Valdosta head coach Alan Rodemaker took over.
Slack, of course, was familiar with Rodemaker, having coached against his teams, but said he has especially enjoyed working in the same defensive room with him this spring.