New North Mecklenburg football coach Brad Baker is excited to make his imprint on the Viking program.
Baker, who was named to his first head-coaching job last week after being an assistant for 12 years, hopes to build a family atmosphere at his new school.
"I want to know what's going on in (the players') lives; I want to know that their grandma is sick or that they're not doing well in algebra," said the former Mooresville offensive line coach. "Obviously, wins are important - they have a scoreboard in the stadium for a reason - but telling these kids that you truly care about them is just as important."
Baker, who has spent the last six years with the Blue Devils, said building those relationships can be more important than whether a player can run a route or throw a pass.
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"If a kid knows you care about them, they'll work harder for you," the 34-year-old Mooresville resident said. "And that works both ways."
North Meck athletic director Kevin Wilson said he chose Baker to take over for retiring coach Mike Bradley because he came highly recommended - both as a coach and a teacher - and because he embodied characteristics, like stability and flexibility, that school leaders were looking for.
"He projects a level of energy and confidence that I think our student-athletes will embrace," said Wilson.
Baker, who played fullback at Division II Concord (W. Va.), said he knew early on that he wanted to be a coach.
The West Virginia native moved to Rockingham County, north of Greensboro, to start his teaching career after graduation. There, he also began his coaching career.
After two years at McMichael High, he joined the Reidsville High football staff under head coach Jimmy Teague in 2002. During Baker's four years with the Rams, they played in three state championship games, winning two 2AA titles.
"I was lucky to be there during a very successful time period," said Baker. "I got to learn a lot from (Teague) and his whole staff."
Since arriving in Mooresville in 2006, Baker coached under three head coaches and experienced highs and lows with the Blue Devils.
"You learn from each coach," said Baker. "When you're 0-11, you learn humility. You still wear your school's name around with pride. ... It builds a lot of character."
He added that seeing Mooresville coach Hal Capps transform the team into a state title contender should help him as he takes over a Viking program depleted by school realignment and that won only one game this past season.
Baker added that seeing players who were winless a few years back play in the 4A semifinals in the fall is the highlight of his coaching career, so he wants to replicate that kind of success with the Vikings.
"We want to be a championship-caliber program, where year-in and year-out, people will see North Meck on their schedule and know that they're going to have to really prepare for us" he said.
Baker admits that leaving Mooresville for his new job is bittersweet.
"I've invested a lot of my time and effort here," he said. "It's definitely going to be hard to tell these kids and these coaches, which are a close group, goodbye. It was a lot more difficult than I thought, but I'm leaving to do something that I've known I wanted."
Baker, who will teach U.S. History at North Meck starting in April, said he feels like he's ready for the extra work that comes along with being a head coach. He explained that he feels fortunate for having had good role models to teach him along the way.
"Jimmy Teague and Hal Capps are two of the best coaches this state has ever seen," said Baker. "Their records speak for themselves, with multiple state championships, but they're better men than they are football coaches."
Although Baker is only beginning to meet his players, he noticed a lot of resiliency from the team, despite a tough season when they played the Blue Devils in the fall.
"I think we can build on that," said Baker.
As he starts making his first decisions as head coach, including figuring out his coaching staff, Baker, borrowing from Capps, is already looking ahead.
"I'll measure success in 10-15 years from now, when those kids come back and tell me, "Here's my wife, here are my kids, here's the great job that I have,' " said Baker. "That's when I'll know if I've really been successful."