Tad Baucom knows what it takes to build a winning program in Union County.
The veteran head coach has been around football for more than three decades.
Baucom has had successful head coaching stints at Monroe (1985-96), leading the Redhawks to the 2A state championship game in 1989; at Central Academy of Technology and Arts (2011-2013), leading the team to a program-best 6-7 record in 2011; and was a lead assistant at Piedmont (2001-2010).
Now Baucom, 58, takes over a Sun Valley team that has averaged eight wins per season over the past five years and won a share of the last two Southern Carolina Conference titles.
Never miss a local story.
While the Spartans lost 18 starters and 31 seniors to graduation, he is confident the team can reload.
“I’ve been blessed to be a part of a lot of successful teams and programs, and I know what it takes to win,” said Baucom, who is the third Sun Valley coach in the past three seasons, following Paul Hall and Scott Stein. “I’m very excited to be part of the great tradition at Sun Valley. It is a special place. The excitement on the team, at the school and in the community just shows me what we could do here. I’d be fine if this was my last high school football coaching job.”
Baucom set the tone from Day One, Jan. 27, by rebuilding the Spartan weight room to make sure his players would become regulars in the now “college-like” facility.
One of Baucom’s biggest, strongest and fastest players is all-state tailback Albert Funderburke. The 6-foot, 200-pound senior has posted back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons, rushing for 4,179 yards and 40 touchdowns combined in his sophomore and junior campaigns.
Funderburke runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, bench presses 290 pounds and squats 540 pounds. He believes he can still do better this season, even with opposing teams keying in on his every move.
“I know the defenses are going to gunning for me, trying to keep me down, but I actually like that challenge every game,” said Funderburke, who has a 3.6 GPA and offers from Duke and Northwestern. “ … That also frees up room for teammates to make plays.”
Funderburke is just a part of what should be a talented backfield. Porter Ridge transfer Isaiah Hicklin, who passed for 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, and junior tailback P.J. Lotharp should also contribute.
Baucom will run the pistol formation, putting Funderburke directly behind Hicklin to keep teams guessing on who will get the ball.
“We want to get the ball to Albert as much as possible, but we also hope he can do more with less touches this season,” Baucom said. “We want him to have more meaningful touches. We don’t want teams to just be able to pin their ears back and come after him. We hope that Funderburke, Hicklin and Lotharp complement each other really well, so we keep people honest.”
A big factor in the running game will also be the Spartan offensive line, which returns only one starter in senior center Corey Keels.
The Spartan defense must also reload with defensive tackle Dom Ventura, linebacker Matt Plott and defensive back Codi Bryan, all seniors, leading the way.
The schedule will be challenging. The Spartans open with Hough on Aug. 21 before facing teams like Rocky River, Porter Ridge and Monroe in successive weeks.
Then, Baucom hopes his team can finally win its first outright SCC title.
“Our nemesis has been winning an outright conference championship,” Baucom said. “We hope to be the first to do a lot of things at Sun Valley.”
“We definitely want to be the first Sun Valley team to win a conference championship this season,” Funderburke said. “We, especially the seniors, really want to go out with a bang and do something that everyone remembers for a long time.”