The 2016 Austin Award

Willie jeffries

The work and accomplishments of the 2016 “Austin Award” recipient  is certainly worthy of this recognition.

Here are some of the things highlighted in their nomination: “Willie Jeffries demonstrates all areas of obedience and loyalty by giving and sharing unselfishly of his time, talents, willingness, and authority. He responds to the good of everyone with alacrity, enthusiasm, and cheerfulness. He is positive … happy to serve … obeys the "Golden Rule" by treating others as he would want others to treat them. … He transcends the narrow confines of egotism and responds to the best aspects of an individual. There is no shame in his servant and humble attitude. He always maintains a pleasant and respectful demeanor as the works with others. He has paved the way for many bright minds and careers in our community…”

A Union S.C. native, Jeffries went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a Master’s degree in guidance and counseling from South Carolina State University.  He also studied at Indiana University.

A former football player, his coaching career began in 1960 as an assistant high school coach in Lancaster, SC.  He then went on to become head high school coach in Gaffney, SC (going  64-8-2 in seven seasons).

But we know him well for his coaching stint here in Orangeburg, SC … serving two stints (1973–1978, 1989–2001) as Head Football Coach at South Carolina State University for a total of 19 seasons.  His first stint alone completed an impressive 50-13-4 in six seasons.

During his remarkable 29-year collegiate head-coaching career, which included five-year stints each at Wichita State and Howard University, he compiled a 179-132-6 record.  This enviable record included six Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championships, two national titles, several post-season appearances, numerous coaching awards and work as a collegiate Athletic Director.  He also produced a number of players who have distinguished themselves in professional football and other professions (and they attribute their success to his mentoring and support).  He made history in 1979 when he became the first African American head football coach in Division I football. He passed up several opportunities to serve as an assistant in the National Football League.

We’re happy that with all his success, Orangeburg County is his home.  And he does all he can to help make it a better place.   

It’s an understatement to say that others have noticed and recognized his contributions.

  • He is enshrined in 9 athletic halls and has had stadiums and football fields named after him;

  • In 1988, then Governor Carroll Campbell awarded him the “Order of the Palmetto” -  the highest civilian honor in the state of South Carolina which is awarded to those citizens who make achievements of statewide impact;
  • In 2001, then Governor Jim Hodges awarded him the “Order of the Silver Crescent” – the State’s highest honor for community service
  • He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010;
  • Also in 2010, the SCSU Board of Trustees appointed him “Coach Emeritus”;
  • In 2011, he was named the Times and Democrat’s “Person of the Year”;
  • And in September 2012, we recognized him as “Citizen of the Month”.

He is active in his church and several coaching, professional and civic organizations, including the American Football Coaches Association, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Inc. …  working with youth to succeed.  He mentors youth and enjoys speaking to youth in schools, churches and other organizations working to make a positive impact in the lives of our youth. 

A history buff, he was instrumental in the creation of the Orangeburg African American Heritage brochure for education and tourism.  He was appointed by Governor Nikki Haley and currently serves on the South Carolina Ports Authority Board.  And we are pleased that he agreed to serve on our Board of Directors.

We are proud to present  the 2016 Austin Cunningham Character Award to our coach, the husband of Mary, the father of Valorie, Willie Jr. and Tamara, grandfather of 6, community champion, ambassador and our friend …  Willie Jeffries. ​