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Stressing fun, Mark Beach led Lafayette High School to a 9-2 record.

MAYO, Fla. — Ideally, Mark Beach wouldn’t have had the pressure of having to replace Joey Pearson at the helm of the Lafayette High football program.

“Coach Pearson was a great coach, a Hall of Fame guy, so dad always told me he wanted to be the guy not after the guy but the guy after after the guy,” said his son Jaxson Beach, the Hornets’ quarterback. “You don’t ever want to replace someone that’s great like coach Pearson.”

But pegged in April as the man to follow Pearson, a FACA Hall of Famer, Mark Beach made the most of the opportunity, earning All-Suwannee Valley Coach of the Year honors.

Powered by the Hornets’ potent offense led by Jaxson Beach, Mark Beach guided LHS to a 9-2 mark in 2019 and the second seed in the Region 3-1A playoffs behind eventual state champion Madison County. The nine wins tied a program record for most wins in a head coach’s first season alongside John Bernheim in 1975.

“I did walk into a good situation,” Mark Beach said, crediting assistants Tim Hanson, Derek Garland, Jimmy Blankenship and Mike Harris for their work in the Hornets’ success. “There is a misconception where everybody thinks that because the kids did know me that there’s not a transition. And that’s wrong because there is. When leadership changes, everything changes.

“It becomes a totally different dynamic.”

The good news for Beach in following Pearson is that the cupboard was far from bare. Lafayette High posted just one losing season in Pearson’s 20 years as coach. Beach played a role in that continued success, serving as an assistant for Pearson on two occasions, including the last three years as offensive coordinator.

But that led to additional pressure, too, Beach noted prior to the season.

“I think there’s a little bit of pressure on both ends of that,” he said. “I was part of this success and now I have to create my own success.

“I’m not going to lie to you, there’s always pressure on that end of it.”

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Lafayette High coach Mark Beach and the Hornets played in some exciting games with a never quit attitude.

Beach’s solution to the pressure: have fun.

Prior to the season, he said he wanted the Hornets to have fun and enjoy the season, switching some things up in practice to help make things more fun.

Mission accomplished, Jaxson Beach said.

“It was a great year,” he said. “We had an amazing time. We had fun at every practice. We’ve got some real good personalties and some guys that are pretty goofy.

“No regrets on this season at all. I think it was a very special one.”

A special season that showcased a never give up attitude. The Hornets trailed Chiefland by three scores twice before rallying for a 54-53 win. LHS was down 26-7 at Branford before winning 29-26. After Dixie County had regrouped from a 14-0 hole to grab a 16-14 lead, the Hornets answered to win 27-16.

“I think people are going to remember the games we were in for a very long time,” Mark Beach said, adding the attempts at having more fun led to additional energy. “Because they were so, so exciting.”

To Jaxson Beach, those exciting wins were a direct result of the leadership of their head coach.

“There was probably about three games there that I think if he wasn’t coaching us I don’t know, I don’t think we would have won those close games we were in,” Jaxson Beach said. “He really pushed us all year to never quit, to keep fighting.”

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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