John McKissick has coached about 5,000 football players during his 61 years at Summerville High School. Tonight, McKissick goes after his 600th career victory, which is more than any football coach at any level. Many of his former players will be in attendance when the Green Wave travels to Ashley Ridge for the 7:30 p.m. game.
Here's how some of his former players remember their legendary coach through the decades:
Bobby Bunch, 1950s
“When I met him, I hoped he would stay at Summerville forever,” said Bobby Bunch, who was the quarterback in 1952, McKissick's first year at the school. “When I first met him, there was a twinkle in his eye, some magical quality surrounded him. Then I finally heard the words I dreamed about. He said, 'You are my quarterback.' ”
Summerville lost only one game in two years with Bunch at quarterback. His years under McKissick helped him get a football scholarship to the University of South Carolina.
“He motivated us and we ran the same play over, over, over, over and over until we got it right,” Bunch said. “He was fair, and I never heard him say a bad word about anybody. I moved back to the area because I wanted my three boys to play for John McKissick.”
Dickey Dingle, 1960s
“I think he got the best out of average and ordinary guys,” said Dickey Dingle, who played for McKissick from 1966-67 and went into coaching and eventually became principal at Summerville. “He was always fair and was a great motivator, and that influenced me to become an educator.”
Dingle laughs when he said he played “loose tackle” for the Green Wave. “I played tight end but, of course, we didn't throw the ball. I would just line up and block like I was a tackle. It was three yards and a cloud of dust.
“He always stressed blocking. I remember one practice when I accidentally pancaked him. He got up and sort of smiled. I think he really appreciated a block like that away from the ball.”
Bo Blanton, 1970s
“He really cared about you on the field, but was just as interested in what you did off the field. He taught us to give back to the community,” said Bo Blanton, who was the quarterback from 1974-76. He has served on the Dorchester District 2 School Board for 16 years and is course superintendent at the Summerville Country Club.
“He could have moved on, but he decided to stay in Summerville because what he built was something very special,” Blanton said. “What he created over time was a fraternity. It doesn't matter when we played for him, but every player is connected. There's that bond.”
Keith Jennings, 1980s
“He was a teacher, and he taught us how to block,” said Keith Jennings, who went on to play for Clemson and enjoyed a solid NFL career. “Back then we had two or three running backs who gained 1,000 yards because we rarely threw the ball. When we did throw, I would get to catch the ball. But, first, I had to prove I could block. So here's coach, this older gentleman who was in shape, showing me how to block and he's not wearing a shirt. It was something else to see.”
Jennings played at Summerville from 1981-84 and was a member of three state championship teams.
“I was up in Clemson this past summer with coach McKissick and we were at a clinic,” said Jennings. “Here are coaches from all over the South and the country. They were gravitating to him, asking him questions. That made me proud that I played for him. He's always with me.”
Joe Call, 1990s
“Being his grandson, he always had high expectations for me,” said Joe Call, a quarterback who played for the Green Wave from 1994-97. “He was always making sure I did the right thing whether it was football, grades or life in general. I was his grandson, but once I made the team, I became one of his players. I was proud to play for my grandfather. Many players say they played for their father, but how many can say they play for their grandfather?”
Call said can't believe the stamina of McKissick at age 86.
“I think he will get 600 and go well past that,” Call said. “I am amazed that he's kept going. There were rumors he might retire after I graduated from high school. But he's kept going and why shouldn't he? He loves what he's doing.”
A.J. Green, 2000s
“(Coaching) is his passion. I guess that's what keeps him going,” A.J. Green told a Cincinnati television reporter this week. “He's a great coach and it's not surprising because I know he's going to coach as long as he can. It's a great milestone for him. It was an honor to play for a great coach like that.”
Green was a four-time all-state selection and played for the Green Wave from 2004-07. He now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It was key for me coming from a great program like that. Just having that winning attitude and approaching every game expecting to win. It's his knowledge of the game. He's been around the game so long.
“The biggest thing is he changes. When I was there, whatever was new, he got on it. That's the biggest thing, he wasn't afraid to change.”