MONROE Johnny Sowell and Monroe High have a lot of shared history.
The former three-sport star at Monroe, who now coaches the same three sports there, hopes his football team will write another chapter in it at 7:30 Friday when they play High Point T.W. Andrews in the state 2AA championship in Chapel Hill.
These kids deserve it, said Sowell, whose 13-2 Redhawks could add another state title to those his Monroe teams recently have won in basketball and track.
We felt like we had a shot last year, and we came up short (with a loss in the regional final). So unfinished business is a phrase we have used a lot this year.
And it would be another milestone for Sowell, a 1981 graduate of Monroe High, where he was twice the Union County Player of the Year and was on the schools 1979-80 state championship boys basketball team. From there, he went on to play running back and wide receiver at Appalachian State, where his mentors included head coaches Mack Brown and Sparky Woods.
I was surrounded by a lot of good coaches. And as a coach you want to try to give athletes the same kind of experiences that you had, Sowell said.
And if theyre good enough, you try to help them with the dream of playing in college and getting a free education. But the best thing is just being around the kids and seeing them develop by the time theyre seniors.
This years team has done that well, bouncing back from an earlier exit than they wanted last season after leading Bryson City Swain by three touchdowns in the region final. The Redhawks have won 10 straight since a 42-22 home loss to Charlotte Christian on Sept. 20 left them with a 3-2 record.
Its an accomplishment thats been bittersweet for Sowell, who lost both of his parents in the last year-and-a-half. His mother, Sarah, died after a two-year battle with breast cancer in August 2012, and his father, John, died in January of this year.
Were a tough, tight-knit family, said Sowell, the youngest of nine children. A lot of them will be at the game.
He said hes tried to pass along to his players the things he learned from his parents. Sowell said. Some of our players havent had the opportunity to have a mother or father to guide them. They need to learn that its about being responsible and working hard.
Sowell, picking up a pink T-shirt on his desk, said he will especially remember his mother as he prepares for tonights game.
Thats why I wear the pink, he said. I said I would take it to the end of the season, and I have a new one for Friday night.
He also honors his mother with another tradition. In her last year, he would park his truck near the athletic buses next to the football stadium so that she had a clear view of games and practices after she was no longer able to sit in the stadium due to her health.
I still keep that spot every morning, said Sowell, who parks there when he starts his school day with a 6 a.m. weights workout. It belongs to her.
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