When he was football coach at Hickory Ridge High in Concord a few years ago, Marty Paxton tried to hire a young assistant he thought could be special.
Paxton couldn’t coax Eric Morman to leave A.L. Brown High back then to become an assistant.
Three years ago, Morman accepted his first head coaching job at West Stanly High. In February, after two seasons with the Colts, Morman left for 4A North Mecklenburg.
Morman is quickly proving to be the coaching talent Paxton thought he could be.
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North Mecklenburg is 6-0, which represents the school’s best start since 1992, when the Vikings began 8-0 and reached the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship game. North Meck, which plays at rival Hopewell Friday night, has doubled its 2016 win total.
“I knew Eric would be a good coach,” Paxton said Thursday night. “I could just tell. His knowledge of the game, his demeanor with kids, the way he interacted with people. Sometimes you can just sense people who would be pretty good coaches.”
Morman, 27, was 3-8 in his first season at West Stanly. In the five years before he arrived, West Stanly barely averaged two wins per season. In Morman’s second year, the Colts were 7-5. At North Mecklenburg, he’s led a similar turnaround.
Since 2006, North Mecklenburg has had one winning season. The Vikings can guarantee a second with a win Friday. And North Mecklenburg’s average of 28.3 points per game is the most at the school since 2000, when coach Scott Sherrill led the Vikings to an 8-4 season and they averaged 31 points.
“We came in with a plan,” said Morman, a graduate of Richmond Senior High and Catawba College. “It was all about getting our guys to understand what it would take to be part of a successful program. We wanted to see them be successful on the field, in the classroom and when they leave North Mecklenburg.
“To do that, they had to understand that we’re going to work extremely hard. And it’s carried over to the games so well. It’s always exciting to start off fast.”
Along the way, the Vikings have developed a star in senior running back Emanuel Wilson. A 6-foot, 205-pound senior, Wilson averages nearly 8 yards per carry. He has 691 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Emanuel is an extremely hard-working young man,” Morman said, “and he understands we have an identity. We’re going to run the football and it sets up the pass for us and we try to get our guys in space to make plays.”
That formula is allowing North Mecklenburg to develop other standouts around Wilson:
▪ Junior quarterback Aaron Scott is run-pass threat. In four games, he has thrown for 643 yards and five touchdowns. He’s rushed for 306 yards and four touchdowns.
▪ Junior wide receiver Justin Olson averages 15.5 yards per catch, good for 248 yards total receiving and two scores.
▪ Senior linebacker Dantevian Byrd has 48 tackles and six sacks on a defense that’s helped North Mecklenburg remain one of the state’s 11 unbeaten 4A teams.
With the winning, a spirited fan base has returned.
“There’s definitely a lot of excitement,” Morman said. “We’re getting a lot of support from the school and a lot of support on campus. Every home game, with us starting so fast, we’ve had a great crowd. We want to keep it going.”
As a teenager, Morman played for coaches Ed Emory and Paul Hoggard at Richmond Senior, one of the most storied high school football programs in the Carolinas. The Raiders always won - and still do - and Morman said he learned lessons there about hard work, about not taking shortcuts, about how to build and maintain a winning program.
He said he’s added lessons he learned from coach Mike Newsome at A.L. Brown. Newsome built a national power at Butler High in Matthews and has maintained the long-standing N.C. football power in Kannapolis.
As for Morman, he has the Vikings on pace for just the fifth season with double-digit wins at North Meck since it opened in 1959.
“What I try to do,” Morman said, “is to combine a little bit that I’ve learned from all of my coaches so far, add a little bit of me, and bring that to North Mecklenburg. We feel as a coaching staff that there’s a lot of talent here at North Mecklenburg.
“We’re excited about the future and we can be a very good football program. That’s the plan.”
Paxton, now the coach at Mooresville, said he believes Morman is on the right track. Paxton’s Blue Devils lost 21-0 to North Meck two weeks ago.
“What they do,” Paxton said, “they do well. They aren’t real flashy, but they come right at you. They stick to the basics. The future is really bright. Those guys are doing a great job, and they’re doing it right.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr