Chris Shinn is facing what may be the toughest head football coaching assignment in the last 20 years in Cabarrus County.
That he's taking over at Central Cabarrus, his alma mater, makes his first head coaching job more special. But Shinn wants to make things right for a program that's coming off one of the worst seasons in memory for any Cabarrus team.
Feeling the ripples from the 2007 opening of Harrisburg's Hickory Ridge High School, which drew most of its students from Central Cabarrus, the Vikings suffered through a miserable 2008 season.
Now, citing strong participation in off-season training sessions and a renewed enthusiasm, Shinn says the Vikings can set the building blocks for a stronger program.
Redistricting changed school
Central's coaching staff saw the warning signs at the end of the 2007 season. Its roster was depleted of younger talent, which was redistricted to Hickory Ridge. Central had just nine players who weren't seniors.
That left just four returning starters entering the 2008 season. Central's student enrollment also was depleted, to the size of a 3A school, but the Vikings were still playing in the large-school ME-CA 7 4A Conference until this year. The results weren't pretty.
Except for a forfeit victoryover Mallard Creek (which Central lost on the field 47-8), the Vikings did not win a game. Central lost by an average score of 41-3 and was shut out six times.
Coach Glenn Cook resigned after six seasons. Shinn, Central's longest-tenured assistant coach, was hired as his replacement in early spring.
A Central grad gets the nod
A 1995 graduate, Shinn returned to teach at Central in 1999. The following year, he joined coach Jody Grooms' staff. In nine seasons as an assistant, he coached the defensive line and outside linebackers and worked as defensive coordinator.
Shinn said he had offers to be defensive coordinator at other schools in recent years but believed his goal of becoming a head coach would come at one day at Central Cabarrus.
His first self-imposed assignment as the new head coach was to increase his number of players. Shinn said there were probably 35 or 40 players on the varsity and junior varsity rosters combined by the end of 2008.
Shinn had the advantage of teaching weight-training classes in the spring. He was able to monitor the progress of players and prospective players.
The weight training continued over the summer, and Shinn estimates he and his staff saw more than 100 participants. The Vikings started this season with more than 70 players between the varsity and junior varsity teams.
A new attitude
There were other challenges. One, he said, was to change some players' complacent attitude, fostered by a previous lack of competition from other players at their position. The added depth this season helped with that, and it also translated into a higher degree of confidence.
“We did more team stuff over the summer,” said Quintin Gay, a senior skill position player. “We have a whole different attitude. In past years we just went through the motions. With the new coaching staff there's something new and there's excitement every day.”
Another numbers issue is with the coaching staff. Shinn has only five assistants, and he said it's because hiring freezes and budget cuts have limited opportunities to add more.
The effort to right the ship took an early-season hit when Central dropped a 54-0 decision to defending 3A state champ West Rowan on Aug. 21. The Falcons' starters scored at will, and the Vikings couldn't muster positive yardage or any first downs.
But Shinn said morale is still high.
The Vikings next opponent: Hickory Ridge on Friday .
Joe Habina is a freelance writer.