LAWRENCEVILLE - Nostalgia plays strange games with memory.
It amplifies the fond ones until they silence the rattles of frustration and weariness. A glossy sheen fills the crevices carved out in the solitary moments of pain and failure, and that same illumination brightens the moments of joy and success.
The past four months reminded T. McFerrin daily of the difference between memory and reality. Long days filled with work. But Thursday night gave a hint of the joy four years of retirement had brightened in the memory of the former South Gwinnett head coach. McFerrin, the new coach at Jefferson, coached one of his teams in first-hand game action since his final game at South in 2004.
This was the culmination of all the work we have done since March," said McFerrin, who walks with an aging gate that does not lack for energy and even complained of sweating too much after the game. "It's good to be back. Since March that is what we have been working toward, to get ready to play a football game."
It was just a scrimmage against first-year Gwinnett high school Archer, and the final score of 34-10 in favor of Jefferson really didn't matter. Scrimmages are about learning, and McFerrin even learned something.
"I just found out (they) don't take showers after games," he said. "This is like Football 101."
But on the field, it was still a win. And winning is what McFerrin remembered most of all.
"The fun part is winning games, and I hope we have some fun this year," McFerrin said.
McFerrin took the job at Jefferson in the spring after agreeing to hear the proposal of friend and school superintendent John Jackson. McFerrin worked for Jackson when Jackson was the principal at Elbert County on one of McFerrin's many coaching stops in Georgia.
"I did it as a courtesy," McFerrin said of the interview, "not really having any intention of getting back in coaching. But the more he talked, the more I listened and one thing led to another and I wound up taking the job."
Playing against one of two new Gwinnett high schools in a brand new stadium underscored the changes in high school football since McFerrin last coached. But in retirement, McFerrin had not strayed too far from football. He toured the country lecturing coaches and giving clinics. But even he had to amend his own lectures when starting his tenure at Jefferson.
"It's been one of the tougher jobs because I have never taken a job as late as I took it," said McFerrin, who accepted the job in March. "I do a lecture on organization and I had to look back at my lecture notes. I am trying to do all that in catch-up mode."
There was equipment to order, coaches to hire, booster clubs to meet, schedules to look through, game film to watch, workouts to design and offseason schedules to prepare. He'd done it all before, but coaches first remember Friday nights and the rest falls, out of focus, into the background.
"I never worry too much about the work," McFerrin said.
"I am not complaining. I am the one who made the decision. It has been a lot of work, but I am not complaining."
In his four-year stint as a retiree, McFerrin and his wife, Jane, traveled and relaxed. He got it out of his system.
"I thought I would try (coaching) again," McFerrin said.
"(My wife) thought I was out of my mind and still does. She has not forgiven me. She thinks I am completely wacko for doing this."
The hours may be long and the work a bit jarring even for a veteran like McFerrin. But his memory of the camaraderie between his coaches and players did not betray him. After all, McFerrin is the progenitor of more than a score of football coaches across Georgia including former Brookwood head coach Dave Hunter, current Brookwood coach Mark Crews and Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis.
And coaching a live game Thursday was the final reminder of the love that drew McFerrin back. Even if it was just a scrimmage.
"That is what you are coaching for, to play the game," he said.