Coming Home: Natchez football standout, college coach returns for Football Foundation banquet

Published 7:18 pm Sunday, February 25, 2024

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NATCHEZ — It will be like old home week when Steve Buckley returns to Natchez Tuesday.

The 1981 South Natchez-Adams High School graduate will be the featured speaker at the Miss-Lou Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame’s 41st annual Scholastic Awards Banquet.

A football standout himself at South Natchez — he was a member of the 1980 state champion South Natchez team — Buckley is head football coach at Jones College, formerly known as Jones County Junior College.

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The four-year college in Ellisville is known for helping college football players like Georgia’s wildly successful quarterback Stetson Bennett find their way back to the straight and narrow road.

Buckley is returning for his eighth season in Ellisville in 2024. He has guided Jones College to three divisional titles, a to 10 national ranking in all seven seasons there and a combined record of 50-16.

Buckley was the 2021 MACCC South Division Coach of the Year. Buckley graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1985 distinguished himself as a high school coach in Mississippi, including winning a state championship, as well as working as an assistant coach for USM from 1997 through 1999.

Buckley moved to Natchez with his parents, the Rev. Gerald and Billie Buckley, when he was 10 years old. He and his younger brother, Stan Buckley, began school at Montebello. Both graduated from South Natchez, Steve in 1981 and Stan in 1982.

The Rev. Gerald Buckley was pastor of Parkway Baptist Church during its heyday, from 1974 through 1986. He died in March 2017. Billie Buckley, who is 84, lives in assisted living facility in Petal and is checked on daily by one of her sons.

Stan Buckley followed in his father’s footsteps and is a minister. He has a ministry in Haiti and one in the Mississippi Delta. He lives in Madison.

“Stan built a cabin on our farm and is here quite often,” Buckley said. “In fact, he is here today. It was his turn to take her for a ride.”

Buckley has fond memories of growing up in Natchez and playing football for the legendary coach, the late Ed Reed.

“I am honored that they asked me to speak on Tuesday night. I had the opportunity to be a scholar athlete and attend a similar type banquet in high school and I know how much it means to these students,” Buckley said. “I was a part, even if it was a small part, of that great football tradition in Natchez.”

He said he makes his way back to Natchez a time or two each year to recruit football players for Jones College.

“Everybody’s so busy, but I do get over here a time or two a year,” he said.

Buckley said he hopes friends from Natchez will come to the banquet on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Father David O’Conner Family Life Center to visit with him.

Tony Byrne, a longtime member of the organization, said tickets are available and can be purchased at the door.