When Hal Capps announced he'd be filling the vacancy as the new Mooresville football coach in January, it confused many of his friends.
After 18 years at Western Alamance, where he helped the Warriors to four consecutive state playoffs and won the 3A state championship in 2007, he was leaving it all behind to helm a struggling Blue Devils program.
Capps was coming in as the third head football coach in as many years, and taking over after a disappointing 0-11 season. Still he had little doubt about his new direction; in fact, Capps saw it as a second chance.
"I almost took the job the year before," said Capps. His then 17-year-old daughter, Meredith, was still in school and he didn't want to uproot her during her senior year.
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"I couldn't make that change and turn her life upside down."
So when the job opened up again, Capps knew it had to be a sign.
"This was an act of God," he said. "Western Alamance was on strong ground. God wanted me to come here."
Though the Blue Devils made a complete turnaround, going 8-4 and making the 4A playoffs before losing in the first round, Capps' first concern when he took over wasn't wins or losses, but his new players.
"I wanted to show them I cared about them first as a person, then as a player," said Capps. "That's how you build: character first, then football."
During the team's first meeting with the coach in the spring, Capps told his players that he already loved them, but some weren't buying it.
"He came in and said, 'I love you' and I thought 'I don't know you, you don't know me, how can you love me?'" said senior quarterback Patrick O'Brien.
"I definitely had some trust issues, but he's here for the right reasons. I love coach Capps. He's truly a good man."
To build that trust, Capps had to show his team that he cared for them.
"If they got in trouble in a class, I would go sit in that class with them," he said. "I couldn't fix (the problem) for them, but I showed them they had my support, and I would talk to them about what other choices they had."
Sophomore wide receiver Shawn Lester has grown to trust Capps.
"He said he'd always be a Blue Devil, he wouldn't leave after one year, and he'd always love us," said Lester. "I believe him."
That belief and the trust Capps built translated into a feeling of family and community that many Blue Devils felt was missing.
"Everyone's heart is in it this year," said senior lineman Tyler Bruton.
"The team dinners just used to be people coming in to eat and then leaving. Now they feel like family dinners. It's like he's our dad, and the other coaches are our uncles."
Once Capps had his team loving each other, and meaning it, he turned to the field.
Despite being winless last season, the Devils were second in scoring behind Mallard Creek in the I-Meck Conference. Capps knew they had talent, but watching films from the previous season showed him they had something else too.
"I saw a lot of finger-pointing on the field. ... A lot of pouting," said Capps. "I wanted them to understand no one is bigger than the team."
The Devils started out 3-0 this season, but then dropped their next three games. Capps saw some of the old mentality creeping in, but worked hard to keep his players on course.
"The halftime talks lift us up," said Bruton. "He gives good inspirational speeches, whether we're up or down by 50. He encourages us to play better, think about the first half, and not give up."
Along with his own personal style of love and faith, Capps attributes the turnaround to his coaching staff. Rather than starting over with all new personnel, Capps kept eight of the former coaches on and brought in only three new faces.
"The coaching staff is awesome," said Capps. "I think the combination of fresh ideas, and coaches who already knew the players has really contributed to our success. They had great coaches, but they were limited in what they could do by the previous head coach. Now the guys are having fun again."
And it shows.
"We're enjoying the excitement factor," said O'Brien. "It makes our days fun, and practices are just like games."
At the end of every game, Capps met his team around a goalpost.
"We talk about the game, about our character," he said.
He opened this ritual to parents and community members, and when they were away at schools that wouldn't allow fans to come to the goalpost, the team would go to them.
A year ago most fans wouldn't have believed the Blue Devils would ever make the playoffs.
"I'm happy for them," said Capps. "They deserve it. It's awesome."
But people also wouldn't have thought Capps would leave Elon.
"God works in mysterious ways," he said. "I'm having the time of my life."