West Charlotte High senior running back Pralowe Grier said, more than anything else, his football team needed hope. He believes new Lions coach Mo Collins, an All-America offensive lineman at the school in the 90s, is the perfect guy to bring that hope.
Collins, 37, is one of 10 new football coaches in Mecklenburg County this fall. Some, like Houghs Miles Aldridge, are inheriting programs ready to make deep playoff runs. Few have the rebuilding job Collins faces at his alma mater, once one of the Carolinas premier programs.
Coach Collins is a leader, Grier said Thursday morning before practice. Hes brought more discipline than we had before, and he went to West Charlotte. He knows what it takes to win games. We needed this.
Collins played on a 1993 West Charlotte team that reached the N.C. 4A championship game. He later enrolled at Florida, where he was a three-year starter and played on a national championship team. In 1998, after his junior season, Collins entered the NFL draft and was selected by Oakland in the first round, No. 23 overall. He played six seasons with the Raiders, including in the 2002 Super Bowl against Tampa Bay. For his NFL career, Collins started in 64 of 71 regular-season games in which he appeared.
For the past several years, Collins kept a close eye on West Charlotte, where he once donated money to build a new weight room. He said he didnt like where the program was headed.
From 1973 through 2008, West Charlotte had four losing seasons. In those 35 years, West Charlotte reached the 4A state championship game seven times.
From 2008-13, West Charlotte had four losing seasons.
Collins joined the schools coaching staff just before the 2013 season. He coached offensive linemen. Collins had an up-close view of perhaps the worst season in school history. The Lions finished 0-11 and were outscored 532-146. Near midseason, , Collins said he knew he wanted to be head coach .
West Charlotte is where it all started, he said. You hear how bad it is and whats happening. All you hear is negative things. I wanted to find out what it was myself. When I got in there, these were still kids and they deserve some positive people to see and be around, especially people their color.
Me coming back was saying, I care about you. Im not doing it for money or status, by no means. Im not trying to stay relevant. I have a job to show them what it is to be a man, to have a strong work ethic.
Instead of me donating money and money is always good for a program but giving these boys this type of attention and male leadership, I think, I hope, will be invaluable to them.
Collins is a physical education teacher at the school. He said he had offers to be an assistant coach at some area high school powerhouses and a few college assistant offers, too, but felt West Charlotte was where he belonged .
I love West Charlotte, he said. If youre an alumnus of West Charlotte, you understand theres always a bond and love of that school. To see the program where it was last year, it hit rock bottom. I wanted to try to help change that.
Players say Collins dedication to weight training and his detailed practice plans have made a difference. And Collins said theres still talent. Grier ran for more than 1,500 yards last season. In all, 17 starters return. Collins is also excited about two transfers from Bladenboro: Tavion Graham, a 6-foot-3 linebacker, and 6-4 receiver Xavier McCoy.
Its been great coming back, Collins said. The community supports me and the school supports me. The kids are buying in. The biggest thing is giving them something to have pride in. For the past (few years) they didnt have anything to hang their hats on. Im telling them, You can do this and youre not who they say you are.
Grier said Collins positive attitude and message are getting through.
This year, were stronger mentally and physically, he said. Thats going to make a big difference. If a team scores on us, we wont put our heads down. If someone talks about us, we wont put our heads down. Were still in the game. Coach brings us hope.
Last year, when we had practice, (no fans) came. Now, people in the community show up, and they showed up for our 7-on-7s. Its big in the community. You can feel it. It makes me feel good. Last year, it didnt seem like anyone cared about us. Now, we know they do.
Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less