In recent years, Tift County fans have known athletes called Pig and Little Man.
They’re nicknames, wonderful ones, unique and imaginative. Pig is properly Tyrie Jackson, Little Man is Marquavius Johnson. As good as the nicknames are, Tift County may just top that with this year’s football team. The Blue Devils have Jeffery Butler, known as “Ruff.” There is Chrishon Stephens, called “Boobie.” Azaria Smith is known as “Stank” and Stephen Thomas goes by “Dolla Bill,” which is sometimes shortened to “Dolla.”
All four acquired the nicknames as children. As they have progressed through the Tift County school system, they’ve stuck.
As long as there are children, they will acquire nicknames. Would you immediately know who Larry Jones is? William Swinney? Chavano Hield? They’re Chipper, Dabo and Buddy, respectively. Swinney’s came along because his brother couldn’t quite say “that boy.” Hield’s because as an infant he resembled Married with Children character Bud Bundy.
Dolla Bill, Boobie, Stank and Ruff are among the Blue Devis’ stars this year. All four start. Stephens is a running back. Thomas can play both cornerback and strong safety. Butler plays those positions, too, but has been getting more snaps as Tift’s option quarterback. Smith can play quarterback, has a touchdown as a wide receiver and is winning wide acclaim as a punter.
Though Butler, Smith, Stephens and Thomas are almost exclusively known by nicknames, only Thomas was sure of the story behind his.
“I got mine after I was born,” he said. “My father had told that one day he was playing cards and he only had one dollar left.” That led to his son being Dolla Bill.
I was introduced to Smith’s mom last year at a basketball game. She told me her son’s moniker came from one he was called as an infant: “Stankbug.” That being the southern pronunciation, of course, for stinkbug. “Cute as a bug,” after all, is a very southern expression. I mentioned this to Smith. He said he hadn’t heard that origin story.
All four say most of their teachers call them by the nicknames. There has been a holdout or two.
Former head basketball coach Chris Wade always referred to Smith as Azaria. Wade was not much of a user of nicknames, though he finally acquiesced on Johnson’s “Little Man.” Head coach Ashley Anders has included the nicknames with photos for Players of the Week.
Life with an interesting nickname is not always smooth sailing, but almost in unison all four players assured they’d rather be known by them.
Despite any obstacles, when the call comes from the stands for Ruff or any of the others, it makes a difference.
“It’s amazing,” said Butler.
“It’s special,” said Smith.
Hopefully, they’ll hear the names often in their remaining games.