BAMBERG — It was early October and all Aaron Manigault wanted to do was get his players ready.
The Allendale-Fairfax Tigers had a shot, with a win on that Friday, to take over the top spot in the Class A polls. For Manigault, the team's assistant head coach, that would mean defeating his alma mater, Bamberg-Ehrhardt High, and the fiery coach said everything he could think of to get the Tigers ready for the next night's matchup of rivals.
Allendale-Fairfax didn't defeat Bamberg-Ehrhardt this season. But, they came close on that Friday, and much of that likely had to do with the passion Manigault brought to the field as a coach. It was that same passion that brought folks to admire him, and it's why many turned out — the Allendale-Fairfax football team included — to pack into the Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School Gym for Manigault's funeral on Friday.
Less than a week ago, Manigault was being celebrated in Allendale, alongside Tigers head coach and best friend Wayne Farmer, as the two served as Grand Marshalls in the town's Christmas Parade. That day, the two parted, Farmer headed home to Orangeburg, and Manigault headed home to North Augusta. But, an RV pulled out in front of Manigault and brought to end the life of a husband, a father and a coach that was loved by all.
Leon Maxwell coached Manigault at Bamberg-Ehrhardt, and Friday, he remembered his former star.
"I think about Aaron as a model student," Maxwell said. "I never recall him being a problem. He was a special person on a special team. They were special because they bonded together to reach a goal.
"He was a total team player and a credit to his community," Maxwell added.
A letter was read from former South Carolina State head coach Willie Jeffries, who could not be in attendance, but wanted to send his remembrances of the player — who at around 5-8 and 185 pounds — stepped in at fullback for Jeffries' Bulldogs and earned the nickname "Mad Manee." Jeffries remembered him as being tough and respectful. Maxwell did too.
"When he graduated he went over to South Carolina State University and became one of coach Jeffries players," he told those in attendance. "(Jeffries) said he was one of the toughest fullbacks he ever coached. He said if he had 22 Aarons on his squad he would win the national championship.
"As a coach," Maxwell added, "his record speaks for itself. At Elloree they were real successful. At Denmark-Olar they were real successful, and at Allendale they were real successful."
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Farmer also spoke at the service.
"He was the most determined and confident person I have ever known," Farmer said. "He had a passion that no one can match."
Farmer promised Manigault's legacy would live on, and he said the two had unfinished business on the football field — alluding to a state title — and promised that he would do his best to get that goal accomplished for both of them.
"From 1995 until the present, he was always beside me on the sideline," Farmer said. "I've never been in a football game without him beside me. He was the last person I embraced before every game.
"If you knew Aaron like I knew him, you knew he was supposed to live to be 100," he added. "I asked him…to raise my child (if anything happened to me). I thought he would live to be 100."
Pallbearers included Farmer, Bamberg-Ehrhardt assistant football coach Kevin "Butch" Crosby, Bethune-Bowman head coach Bobby Hemby and North head coach Carlos Cave. He was remembered as an excellent cook, a coach who influenced many, a friend, a father, a nephew…someone whose time came far too early. All agreed however, that Manigault had simply moved on to a better place and that his presence would still be felt.
"I don't know if Lennel Elmore is here," Maxwell said before he ended his speech. "But, I want to tell him to do a good job in the Shrine Bowl because Aaron will be watching."
Manigault is survived by his wife, Anita Rice Manigault; daughters, Allaisha Manigault and Precious Rice; his mother, Eva O. Manigault; mother-in-law, Jessie Lee Rice; father-in-law, Bobby Joe Rice; sister-in-law, Angela (Patrick) Carter. He was affectionately loved by Marlo (Joe) "Sis" Brown and Kim "Sis" Farmer.