Ben Wiggins

Ben Wiggins was Colquitt County's starting quarterback in 1987 and 1988 before going on to play at Samford.

MOULTRIE - Ben Wiggins recalls a conversation he had while playing football with Colquitt County High with his then-quarterbacks coach Tim Kelshaw.

“I’m sure he doesn’t remember it,” Wiggins said recently. “But he told me he thought I should consider going into teaching and coaching.”

Wiggins took the suggestion to heart and this year, when he has returned to his hometown to take over as Colquitt County’s superintendent of schools, he is in his 26th year as an educator.

And when speaking recently about his years as players, a coach and an administrator, he seem to take more pleasure in crediting those who have helped make him successful than in those successes themselves.

Many of those who have been so influential on him were those he played for as a youngster and as a young man and those he later coached with.

Like many others who have gone on the athletic and academic success, Wiggins can point to those who nurtured him when his abilities were first becoming apparent.

Darrell Strange, David “Bull” Durham and longtime Moultrie recreation director Jim Buck Goff were among his youth football coaches.

And he played recreation baseball for future Colquitt County Sports Hall of Fame youth coach Steve Fitzgerald.

When he was an eighth-grader, he played the revered Roy Saturday, also a future Hall of Fame member.

As an outstanding football and baseball player for the Packers, he learned the games from the likes of Kelshaw, his quarterbacks coach, Jim Hughes, Brent Brock, James Stancil, Jerry Croft and others.

“I had a lot of really good coaches who did things the right way,” Wiggins said. “They coached us hard and they loved us hard. They taught us that is really important to win and lose with class.

“And I think the reason I got into education was because of their influence on me.”

Wiggins was the starting quarterback for the 1987 and 1988 Colquitt County football teams. Each went 6-5.

Especially offensively, the game was considerable different  three decades ago.

In two seasons, Wiggins threw just 336 passes, completed 138 of them for 1,788 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He was the All-Region 1-AAAA South first-team quarterback his senior season, but attracted just two scholarship offers.

One was from Samford University, where Brock had taken him to a football came during the summer before his senior season.

Wiggins elected to take the offer from Samford, which making the transition from Division III to Division 1-AA football.

The decision led him the opportunity to play for head coach Terry Bowden and quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher.

Bowden, of course, went to become the head coach at Auburn and Fisher followed Bobby Bowden at Florida State.

The Bulldogs were 6-4-1 in his sophomore year, but when he was a junior, Wiggins led Samford to a 12-2 record and the national semifinals.

Samford went 9-3 his senior season.

Wiggins says

“I was incredibly blessed to spend my college years there, to growing into a young man there,” Wiggins said. “So many of the things that (Bowden and Fisher) used to say, I still find myself repeating.”

He especially remembers Fisher imploring his players to “trust your eyes” and not to “over-think” things.

And, “things are never as good as they seem and not as bad as they seem.”

After graduating from Samford, where he met his future wife Jana, who also was a student there, Wiggins returned to Colquitt County where he taught and as was an assistant football coach and, under Mike Singletary, the offensive coordinator.

He gave up coaching in 2002 and accepted an offer from Principal Melton Callahan to become an assistant principal.

Wiggins said Callahan and another former Colquitt County principal, Bob Jones, continue to be mentors.

“They both took me under their wings,” Wiggins said.

In 2009, Wiggins accepted the position of principal at Pelham High School, which, at the time, was in the second-poorest district in the state as far as millage rate, he said.

“That really forced me to learn a lot about finances in school districts,” he said.

While working in Pelham, he became friends with Phillip Brown, the principal at North Oconee High School, who talked to him about the school system there.

When the principal at Oconee High School retired, Wiggins applied for and accepted the job as the principal there in 2014.

Wiggins considers the Oconee school system one of the best in the state and credits much of its success to superintendent Jason Branch.

It was Branch who convinced Wiggins he ought to consider becoming a superintendent himself

“I thought I’d finish my career in Oconee County,” Wiggins said. “He was one those people who stretched me and encouraged me to look into opportunities.

“I’m still in regular contact with him.”

In 2020, he returned to South Georgia as the superintendent of the Thomasville School System.

He took the job just as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold.

In May, when Doug Howell, another former Packer football player, retired, Wiggins returned to his hometown to replace him.

During his career in education, Wiggins has served on the board of directors and as president of both the Georgia Association of Education Leaders (GAEL) and the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals.

He is a strong advocate of athletics and other extracurricular activities.

“I think what is unique about athletics is that it helps kids deal with adversity and learn that things worth having are worth working hard for,” he said.

And those lesson apply to other activities as well.

Wiggins pointed out the time and energy that students put into other sports such as gymnastics and wrestling and activities such as band, FFA and others.

He also give kudos to teachers who take the time after the final bell to give time and develop relationships with students in all extracurriculars.

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