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Duty calls for coach in Hickory

Langston Wertz Jr.
Langston Wertz Jr. writes about videogames, gadgets, golf and sports for The Charlotte Observer and Charlotte.com.

This week, Matt Jones gives up coaching high school football to serve his country.

Tuesday afternoon, Jones, 32, was on his way to Wisconsin for three weeks of training with the Army National Guard. In December, he'll start additional training in Fort Bragg. Next April, he'll likely start a tour of duty in Iraq as a coordinator for artillery strikes.

For the past two months, Jones has been a linebackers coach and weight training instructor at Hickory's St. Stephens High.

“This kind of came at a bad time,” Jones said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “We're in the middle of the season.”

Jones has helped the team to a 2-0 start.

“We were all pretty bummed as coaches when we found out because he did such a good job with the defense,” St. Stephens head coach Fred Whalen said. “And you can imagine having a military guy run your weight room. It's hardcore.”

Whalen said he admired Jones' dedication. When he had to go for three days of training before the West Lincoln game last month, Jones convinced his superiors to let him leave early so he could make the season-opener.

“And he shows up on the sidelines in his fatigues,” Whalen said.

This is Jones' first coaching job and he said coaching had always been a passion and a dream, ever since he enrolled with the Army National Guard as a 17-year-old senior coming out of Wilkes Central High School in Wilkesboro.

Jones served five years before he enrolled at Appalachian State, where he majored in physical education. He graduated last December and re-enrolled in January.

“They were offering to pay back college loans and pay you a bonus,” Jones said. “The money was enticing. I kind of figured I would get called. And I don't mind going. I mean, somebody's got to do it.”


Heard American Idol Jennifer Hudson belt out the National Anthem at the Democratic National Convention last week (check YouTube for her amazing performance) and thought about the best and worst anthems at sporting events. Best: 3. (tie) Faith Hill at the 2000 Super Bowl and Beyonce at the Panthers-Patriots Super Bowl in 2004; 2. Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All-Star game (who knew the anthem could be a love ballad?); 1. Whitney Houston at the '91 Super Bowl (the anthem for all anthems).

Worst: 3. Michael Bolton (terrible echo and he forgot the lyrics at the '03 ALCS in Boston); 2. Roseanne Barr (at a 1990 San Diego Padres game, the TV star squealed, giggled, spat and made an obscene gesture); 1. Carl Lewis (singing at an NBA game, Mr. Olympic Track & Field forgot the lyrics, his voice cracked and he promised, “I'll make up for it now.” Then it got worse.).

lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

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