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Former area coach Buddy Nobles dies after cancer battle

Helped teams win 6 state titles at UC and Union; led Irwin Co., Ga. to 1A crown in ’19

Irwin County football coach Buddy Nobles, center, and players following their win in the state championship game last December. Nobles, a Jacksonville native and former coach at both Union County and University Christian, died on Wednesday night following a battle with cancer. He was 53. (Photo courtesy Irwin County School District)
Irwin County football coach Buddy Nobles, center, and players following their win in the state championship game last December. Nobles, a Jacksonville native and former coach at both Union County and University Christian, died on Wednesday night following a battle with cancer. He was 53. (Photo courtesy Irwin County School District) (Irwin County School District)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville native and former Union County football coach Buddy Nobles died on Wednesday night following a short battle with cancer.

Nobles, 53, who had been diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer last summer, coached 32 seasons in stops across Florida and Georgia and was a part of six state championship teams at Union County and University Christian. He won his first state title as a head coach last December at Irwin County, Ga., capping a 13-0 season by calling his final game in a special booth on the sideline.

Irwin County School Superintendent Thad Clayton said that Nobles received an Irwin County state championship ring from Herff Jones — it was a rush order and specially made — less than a week ago.

He was able to enjoy that Irwin season one more time with that championship ring.

“Our Coach, Buddy Nobles, has passed from this life and is now in the presence of our Lord,” Clayton said in a Facebook post. “He finished his fight with cancer peacefully in the night surrounded by his family. Irwin County Schools has lost a true man of God who will have an everlasting impact on many students, players, coaches and colleagues.”

Nobles was the defensive coordinator at Union County during the Tigers’ run of dominance in the mid-1990s. Those teams won three consecutive state championships from 1994-96 and had a 52-game winning streak, a mark that ranks second in state history.

Nobles coached with Ronny Pruitt, first working alongside him at University Christian and Union County, and then later at Georgia schools Fitzgerald and Coffee.

Coach Buddy Nobles Our Coach, Buddy Nobles, has passed from this life and is now in the presence of our Lord. He...

Posted by Irwin County Board of Education on Thursday, January 23, 2020

Nobles was the head coach at Union County for five seasons, leading the Tigers to the Class 2B state title game in 2003. He left following the 2006 season after a 31-28 record. His most notable player in that span, running back C.J. Spiller, was a first-round pick of the Bills.

“Coach Nobles, when he came to work for my brother at UC, he had been the one guy as a coach that I called the most,” said Union County athletic director and former Tigers coach Ronny Pruitt. “He’s just a great dude. You always hear people say that about people when they pass, but he was truly one. He cared about people, family, the Lord, his community. He lived the talk and he walked it.”

Nobles made his mark at every place he was at, but did more as a head coach at his final stop in Irwin County, Ga. Nobles arrived at Irwin in 2014 and led the Indians to five state championship games in six seasons.

He was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer prior to the 2019 season and missed much of the year due to undergoing treatment, according to numerous reports. But Nobles coached from a special stand on the sideline in the Dec. 14 state championship against Marion County. Irwin won 56-14 for its first state title since 1975.

“Buddy fought it, I was impressed he made it as long as he did,” Ronny Pruitt said. “To make it to that state championship game was a prayer of ours. And to call the game, it was amazing. He was an all-around great guy. I don’t think there’s enough time to talk about him.”


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