Tiftarea names Erik Soliday head football coach

New Tiftarea head football coach Erik Soliday (center) is introduced by headmaster Stacey Bell (left) and athletic director Tim Hathcock Monday afternoon.

CHULA — Erik Soliday was announced Monday afternoon as Tiftarea Academy’s new head football coach.

“I’m excited to become part of this school,” said Soliday at a conference, where he was introduced by Tiftarea headmaster Stacey Bell and athletic director Tim Hathcock.

“I’m excited to be here and get this program started,” said Soliday. “I want to make it one of the best programs in the state.”

Bell said more than 30 applications came in for the job, which became open in late 2017 after the departure of Tully Payne.

Soliday inherits a program that finished 6-5 in 2017 under Payne, advancing to the first round of the Georgia Independent School Association state playoffs.

“We want to get in here and see what these kids can do,” said Soliday, “see how we need to mold our offense and defense to fit them.”

The goal, he said, is to “try to get them in the best possible situation we can put them in and go from there.”

Soliday comes from Americus-Sumter. He retired from the public school system after the 2017 season and 30 years of coaching.

“I really wanted to continue coaching football,” he said. “This was a great opportunity to allow me to do that.”

Soliday praised Tiftarea’s academics, adding he “wanted to turn this into a great football program.”

Tiftarea began its football program in 1976. The Panthers have won three state championships — 1984, 1988 and 1992 — and have notched seven region titles, the last coming in 2005. Though the school has advanced to the state playoffs four times over their last nine seasons, their last win in the state playoffs was in 2008, when Tiftarea was a state semifinalist.

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Bell said the Panthers were “very blessed” to get a coach of Soliday’s caliber.

Hatchcock said he believed Soliday would be the coach to “take our football program to the next level.”

A native of West Virginia, Soliday has long been associated with south Georgia football.

Soliday took over as Turner County’s head coach in 1989, the first of his two stints with the Ashburn school.

During his eight years with the Turner County Rebels, the squad made the state quarterfinals twice. From Turner, Soliday went to Henry County for two seasons before going to Americus in 1999.

The Americus years were Soliday’s most successful.

Under players such as John Harris and Leonard Pope, Americus won state championships in 2000 and 2001 and the Panthers were semifinalists in 2002.

After Americus merged with Sumter County in 2004, Soliday returned to Turner County, qualifying for six more state tournaments.

Soliday spent two seasons at Perry, then coached Americus-Sumter from 2015-17.

In 29 years of head coaching in Georgia, Soliday is 187-141. In addition to the two region titles, Soliday has won seven region championships.

Hathcock said Soliday was looking to start fully working with the team Thursday. He was set to formally meet with his players Monday afternoon.

Soliday said he would spending the next few weeks getting to know his team. He said he was definitely aware of Spence Massey, Tiftarea’s junior running back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2017 and accounted for more than 20 touchdowns.

“I’ve heard of him,” Soliday said, smiling.

Soliday said he has yet to make any decisions yet on assistants.

“Hopefully we’ll try to work with what we have,” he said, adding that he hoped have everyone on board and in the same direction.

Soliday said he thinks Tiftarea can be “a great athletic program.”

“It seems to me like it could really grow here and become something special and I want to be a part of that.”

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