For more than two decades, from 1990 to 2013, Charlotte Country Day never experienced a losing season. In that run, the Bucs won 214 games, eight state championships and was one the top private-school football programs under coach Bob Witman.
Witman resigned in 2014, after his first losing season since he was hired in 1990. The school hired his son, Drew, to lead the program. Heading into his third season, Drew Witman admits to sleeping in his office - and often not sleeping at all - as he tries to return the Bucs to elite status.
Country Day has had three straight losing seasons. But in 2017, Witman and the Bucs believe they have the personnel to change recent history.
“I’m putting my heart and soul into this every day,” Drew Witman said at practice Thursday. “I’m fortunate to have (the same resources) my dad had here, and I’m going to work my behind off to put these kids in position to have the same type of experience I had when I played for my father.”
Growing up, Drew Witman saw the Bucs dominate N.C. private-school football.
From 1993-2004, Country Day won seven state championships and beat several N.C. and S.C. 4A high school football powers. The Bucs haven’t won a state championship since 2010, but they were still a power when Drew Witman was a three-sport star at the school (football, basketball, baseball) before graduating in 2006 and becoming a college quarterback at William Jewell College in Missouri.
Witman said he is leaning on those winning experiences to change the culture.
“I love our kids’ competitive spirit,” Witman said. “We’ve done a lot of culture building around here this past year and these seniors have really dove into leadership now and how it’s going to affect them for the rest of their lives.
“They’ve bought in, and this senior group is impressive in how they are building culture first and worrying about Xs and Os second. That’s the thing that will help so much.”
There are other reasons for optimism: the newly renamed Big South conference they’re in isn’t as top heavy in strength of power as in recent years. Other than Charlotte Christian, which returns 18 starters and 35 lettermen, there isn’t another team that appears clearly superior to the others.
And Davidson Day, the other area private school Division I power, has chosen not to play varsity football this season.
So in what will likely be a four-team race for a conference and state championship, Country Day -- which returns 11 starters and 29 lettermen from a 4-7 team -- believes it has about as good a chance as anybody. Last season, the Bucs started two freshman - Twan Flip and Tim Newman - and seven sophomores. Before 2016, Witman said only two freshman had ever started at Country Day. Those young players are now seasoned.
“There’s a sense of brotherhood on this team,” said linebacker Connor Fewin, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior. “I think everyone’s buying in and we’re on the same page. The chemistry is just a lot better than last year. I think we learned the value of hard work in the off-season (from last year) and expecting to win and demanding excellence. It’s something we lacked last year, and this year we demand excellence of each other.”
Fewin, who had 126 tackles last season, is one of the players Witman will rely on most, along with senior linebacker/quarterback John Hosmer, who will split time at quarterback with senior Tyler Shearer; senior receiver/defensive back Broadus Roberson (50 tackles, five interceptions); senior lineman Justin Ayotunde; and senior long-snapper Keaton Prevette.
Junior defensive lineman Triston Miller (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) provides size up front and skill position sophomores Newman (804 yards rushing in ’16) and Flip will provide the Bucs with quick-strike scoring options.
Witman said his team is battling to win starting jobs harder than any year he’s been at the school, and the talent level is higher, too. He said he feels the program is headed in the right direction.
“I don’t consider this work,” Witman said. “I look at the clock and it’s midnight and it’s like, ‘Oh well.’ And the best part is, I’m excited to get up and go again. It’s about wanting these kids to experience the success my dad had for 25 years.
“It’s not that far away. You know it hasn’t been that long. There’s just a few things that need to change and we’re doing them. We’re doing things the right way and the kids are buying in, and I want with every part of my soul for my kids to have the experience I did. It’s why I do this.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr