Will Campagna stopped coaching football at Charlotte Catholic more than 40 years ago, but when he came back this season to watch his grandson, Vince, play running back as a senior for the Cougars, the legendary coach still made an impact.
"It was like a legend coming home," said Steve Carpenter, 59, who played under Campagna from 1964 until Campagna's last season in 1968 and is now an assistant principal at the school.
"'Coach is here.' That's all you had to say and (people) knew who you were talking about," said Carpenter.
Early Feb. 4, Campagna died of complications from pneumonia at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center. He was 78.
Never miss a local story.
His death came just one day before he was to be inducted into the N.C. Football Coaches Association's hall of fame.
The Lilly, Pa., native first started coaching at Rockingham High and a year later, in 1959, went to Catholic, where his first team went 10-0 and allowed only one touchdown. He also taught biology and coached baseball at Catholic.
"Over time, as I reflect back, I think first and foremost he was a teacher and wanted to make a difference," said Carpenter. "His way of making a difference was he knew you needed to be tough to get through life. He wanted to instill that toughness in you but at the same time ... he kind of laughed like Santa Claus.
"He had a very contagious laugh."
After stops at Kannapolis Brown and Davidson College, Campagna coached at North Mecklenburg for 18 seasons. He retired in 1992 with 218 career victories in 34 years.
Vince Campagna had 32 carries for 199 yards last season for the Cougars and scored three touchdowns.
Will Campagna "would say the same things when he would watch Vince play - good or bad - that I would hear him say when he was coaching in the '60s," said Carpenter. "That showed us how much he cared about us at that time."
Campagna struggled with his health last season, but he still loved coming to watch Vince play.
"I'm limited in what I can do," he told the Observer in November. "I can't walk any great distances. But when I'm sitting here, I feel absolutely fine."
"I don't get upset one way or the other," he added. "If (Vince) does things wrong, I tell him, but I tell him nice. It's just great to watch him play."
Carpenter said Campagna was tough but he also knew how to play a father role for his players.
"The guys loved playing for him," he said. "He got on you when you were wrong, but he also patted you on the back when you did right."