Fathers, sons, and football: How the game connects generations for one local coach

Washington County head football coach Joel Ingram is dedicating the 2018 season -- and the rest of his career -- to his father, who inspired him to become a coach in the first place/Cam Gaskins (WGXA)

SANDERSVILLE, Ga. -- Washington County head football coach Joel Ingram received a call at 4:45 p.m. on Father's Day 2018. His father, Johnny, had passed away.

At 9:00 the next morning, he was out at practice, getting his Golden Hawks ready for the 2018 season.

"That's what he would've wanted," said Ingram. "That's the best way I could honor my father, his image, is to go out and work."

Ingram became a head football coach to follow in his father's footsteps. Johnny was a Hall-of-Fame high school football coach in Alabama for 20 years before retiring and becoming a principal.

Now his two sons carry on his legacy. Joel carries his father with him on the football field, while his older brother John is now the principal at their father's old high school.

Ingram has been on football fields since before he can walk. Football has always been a way for him to connect with his father.

"The men that I looked up to in my life were him and his assistants," Ingram said. "They were my fathers when he was busy and tied up in the other room doing what head coaches do."

Football has always been a staple of the Ingram family. It's seen them through wins and losses, trials and tribulations. Now the game is serving as a guiding light through a time of grieving.

"It's hard, I get a little choked up and then I choke it back," Ingram said. "But the greatest thing [to get through it] has been football, because I can just put my nose down and work."

Ingram used football as a way to connect with his father. Now, he has the chance to connect with his own son the same way. His son Khelton is a freshman at Washington County High School and playing for his father for the first time.

Like his father, Khelton sees that football is a glue that's held their family together for years. He wouldn't have it any other way.

"He (Joel) treats me just like his dad did him. And my grandpa treated me the same way," said Khelton. "I mean third generation, it's just a part of the family. Football is a part of the family."

Even if his father isn't physically with him, Ingram says he's felt him with the Golden Hawks on the sidelines all season long.

He might not have his father with him any more, but he will always have the game that brought them together.

"The game and everything it represents, it's who I am," Ingram said. "And he built a big part of that."

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