The 2023 football season was a challenging one for Heathwood Hall associate head coach Tymere Zimmerman.
In June of 2023, Zimmerman was hired to coach the JV team and as the assistant strength coach.
Chaos soon followed when Heathwood Hall head strength coach Jay Spearman left for Laurens High School, leaving Zimmerman in charge of the strength and conditioning program.
Then head football coach Rick Reetz resigned September 27 resulting in Zimmerman being promoted to associate head coach while still coaching the junior varsity.
“The love and passion I get from that is that the varsity kids have gone through so much since the season started with injuries and Coach Reetz leaving, and they still show up every week ready to go. So can I,” Zimmerman said. “Getting them to believe that football is a game where anything can happen, as long as you give it your best, then you can live with the result. That’s the beauty of everything you do in life.”
While the Heathwood Hall football team had to face the ups and downs of the season, facing challenging times was nothing new for Zimmerman.
He grew up in Bennettsville, in Marlboro County, and developed a passion for football on the playground.
“There wasn’t anything else to do,” Zimmerman said. “It wasn’t like there was an amusement park or anything. Football became a recess thing. then it became all of my friends playing recreation football.”
Growing up he only played baseball and football. As he entered his freshman year at Marlboro County High School, Zimmerman considered only playing basketball. At the time, Dean Boyd had taken over as head coach of the football team.
Zimmerman’s decision to skip football season didn’t go over well with the football staff.
“I remember Trey Woodberry, now at Hannah Pamplico, coming to my house to get me to come to practice,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve been around all those coaches. There was defensive coordinator Marty McIntyre, who also coached at Dillon. Justin Gentry was the offensive line coach. Woodberry coached quarterbacks. Larry Lee coached safeties. Ronnie Baker was on that staff. He’s now at Lake City. That coaching staff was amazing.”
It didn’t take long for everyone to see how talented Zimmerman was on the football field. During his sophomore year, Zimmerman and the Bulldogs faced the Westside Rams in the second round of the 4A playoffs. Before the game, Zimmerman recalls overhearing one of the Westside players asking one of Zimmerman’s teammates about the skinny wide receiver. The player said his coach compared Zimmerman to Georgia star Champ Bailey, who would later go on to a lengthy NFL career.
High school players and coaches weren’t the only ones noticing Zimmerman’s talents. Colleges were also calling.
“It was something no one else had really experienced,” Zimmerman said. “It was nice. It was fun being able to get out of Marlboro County and go to a Clemson football game.”
He recalls the electric atmosphere of a Clemson/Florida State game. It was part of what drew him to the Tigers. As a result he became part of Clemson’s hyped wide receiver recruiting class in 2002, along with Richland Northeast’s Airese Curry and Union County’s Roscoe Crosby.
His career at Marlboro County was a mixed bag of joyous times and painful ones. He won football and basketball state championships as a Bulldog. However, he lost his sister to a car crash in the middle of his senior basketball season.
“We won the state championship that year, but I didn’t feel like celebrating that much,” Zimmerman said. “She was the statistician on the team. I was really emotional.”
Zimmerman went on to Fork Union Military Academy for his first year of college. He roomed with former Clemson star Gaines Adams.
Everything from Zimmerman’s grades to his SAT score seemed to point to the former Marlboro County star eventually dressing out for the orange and purple. That was until later that summer.
“Coach ( Rick) Stockstill called me and told me we had to hold off,” Zimmerman said. “The NCAA was checking on one of my science classes and seeing if it fit the requirement. It was weird because I could have retaken the class at Fork Union, but I didn’t find out until later.”
Then the week of the Georgia/Clemson 2002 season opener, Zimmerman received word that he wouldn’t be cleared to play for the Tigers that season.
Dealt with a hard blow, Zimmerman recalls an interaction that would serve as motivation for him.
“I was at a grocery store and The State newspaper had just put out a story about me not getting into Clemson,” Zimmerman said. “Everyone was reading about it. This lady at the grocery store looks me in the eye and said I was going to be like every other football player who came out of Marlboro County. I didn’t know how to take it, but I ended up taking it as I was going to prove her wrong.”
Zimmerman also wanted to be an example for the kids of Marlboro County who he knew was still looking up to him.
That fall he enrolled at South Carolina State University with some help from his cousin and Bulldogs women’s basketball coach Keshia Campbell. While he felt South Carolina State was a great school, Zimmerman didn’t want to stay there. After Christmas break, he followed another cousin, Mike Bailey, to Newberry College. Zimmerman spent a week in Newberry.
One day, while Bailey was in class, Zimmerman went to the basketball gym. There he ran into men’s basketball coach David Conrady. The coach asked Zimmerman where he wanted to go to school and if he was interested in playing basketball. Zimmerman said he was but didn’t have any money to pay for a school like Newberry. The two met with school president Mick Zais, and Zimmerman chose to stay with the Indians.
Newberry would also hire Zak Willis to become its 17th head football coach. For Zimmerman it was an odd set of circumstances.
“Zak is from McCall, South Carolina,” Zimmerman said. “That’s in the same county I am from. My mom used to babysit Zach.
“My sophomore year at Newberry, I could have gone back to Clemson. I chose to stay at Newberry because of the relationships I had built. I also wanted to help Newberry go from being the worst program in Division Two to winning games and make it to the postseason.”
During Zimmerman’s time there, he broke numerous school receiving records and still holds South Atlantic Conference records for touchdowns (41) and catches (250). Newberry also went on to win the SAC title in 2006.
Following his playing career at Newberry, Zimmerman made a rather interesting life choice.
“When I got out of high school, I told myself I didn’t want to get into coaching,” Zimmerman said. “When I got out of college I started helping at Marlboro County and that led me to Lexington with Josh Stepp for a year, and then to Lower Richland in 2014.
“I enjoy it. It gives me a way to give back to the community. I want to help so many kids get away from the norm. I want them to believe in themselves and go to college. Even if they don’t go to college, I want to push them to do something outside of being in those community areas that can be so hard for young people.
“It hit me that so many kids are going through the same thing I went through, maybe not the same story, but something that’ll make them not want to keep going and to give up. I felt I could be the piece in their lives that help them keep going.”
One of Zimmerman’s most impactful coaching stops was at Lower Richland. He originally joined head coach Daryl Page’s staff before Rodney Barr took the head job in 2016.
During Barr’s first year, the Diamond Hornets struggled through a winless year.
“The crazy part was we knew we were getting better, even up to the last game,” Zimmerman said. “I knew that group was coming back. We were so young.”
The following year, Barr had his assistant coaches write down their win predictions. Most wrote down seven wins. Barr, himself, even predicted seven wins to The Columbia Star. That year Lower Richland finished 7-6 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the 4A playoffs. The playoff journey included a Hail Mary against Myrtle Beach to advance to the third round.
Barr left Lower Richland after the 2019 season, after the Diamond Hornets clinched the Region 4-4A title and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
Lower Richland brought in Dutch Fork’s Marlin Taylor, who was interested in retaining Zimmerman, but only as a tight ends coach. The problem at the time was Lower Richland didn’t have any tight ends.
“The school wanted me to stay, but I didn’t feel comfortable staying,” Zimmerman said. “I wanted Taylor to have a fresh start.”
Zimmerman joined A.C. Flora as the wide receivers coach. A couple of days into the job, he received a phone call from Presbyterian College to coach the same position.
Zimmerman spent one season with the Blue Hose, which turned out to be during the spring of 2021, following the COVID-19 pandemic, before returning to Columbia.
“My son, Kobe, was the biggest reason I wanted to come back,” Zimmerman said. “He’s in third grade an involved with sports. The year I was at Presbyterian College, I missed every one of his soccer, basketball, and flag football games. I took the year off from coaching so I could make it to his games. I started my own training business. I was training receivers, and Freeman Belser wanted me to train his kids, and he talked to me about coaching again.”
Initially, Zimmerman wasn’t sure he wanted to get back into coaching. When Heathwood Hall head coach Danny Lewis left to work at The Citadel, Zimmerman applied for the job. He didn’t get it, but the school wanted him to stay on as the JV head coach.
The move also allowed Zimmerman to work at the same school as his wife, Brionna.
“It’s like a movie,” Zimmerman said. “My kids enjoy it. We get in the same car to come to school. I walk them to class. It’s beautiful.”
The move also allowed Zimmerman to watch from the bleachers as Brionna guided the Lady Highlanders to the 2022-2023 SCISA 4A girls basketball state championship last February.
“I get to see all the hard work she puts in with the team,” Zimmerman said. “The work she puts in is unreal.”
For Zimmerman, watching from the bleachers is a little more stressful than coaching from the sidelines.
“I know the girls worked so hard to win the state championship,” Zimmerman said. “So much can happen with basketball. I watch how much work they put in and for them to go out and win almost every game, it was exciting. I was nervous for them. To see them get the results they worked for was great.”
While the football season is now finished, for Zimmerman the journey isn’t quite over. The Highlanders are still in search for a permanent head coach for the 2024 season. Zimmerman said he will apply for the job, however, there are other opportunities out there.
Regardless of which sideline he winds up on for next season, the 2023 season will definitely be one he remembers.