Charlie Gray has a model he’d like to see Hopewell High’s football program emulate – his former team, one of North Carolina’s most successful over the past five years.
However, Gray says getting the Titans to that point will require working on more than just the Xs and Os.
“It’s the mindset and the discipline, mainly it’s the culture,” Gray said. “Working with our assistant coaches, making sure they hold our kids accountable for their own actions, and also being a good student in the classroom.
“All those things are important – if you’re better in the classroom, responsible there and show discipline there, it’s going to carry over to the football field.”
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Gray was named Hopewell High’s new head football coach on May 12, the program’s third coach in the past five seasons, and the fifth since the school opened in 2001.
An offensive lineman at Livingstone College, Gray went on to be an assistant coach with the Blue Bears. He also spent time as an assistant coach at Salisbury and Vance high schools.
But his best-known success came at his last assistant coaching position – with Mallard Creek High, where he had been the offensive line coach since 2008. Over the past five years, the Mavericks have had one of the state’s most successful football programs, winning the past two NCHSAA 4A state championships and compiling a 69-5 record.
Mallard Creek also has one of the state’s longest active conference winning streaks – 41 games, dating to the 2009 season.
That’s the model – learned from current Mavericks head coach Mike Palmieri – that Gray plans to follow, with the end goal of emulating Mallard Creek’s success.
“It’s a state championship program, and one of the winningest programs in North Carolina over the past four or five years,” Gray said. “The plan is there, and I intend to follow it.
“It’s going to be a little different here. We will be good. What’s stopping them from being good is they’re not used to having to work and being held accountable for their actions. I’m not trying to throw the last coaches under the bus by any means, but I have to call it like it is.”
Selling the changes to the Titans’ returning players has been easier than Gray expected because Hopewell’s last win over Mallard Creek came in 2007, the program’s first year.
“Kids are visual-type people – they want to see some results. All I have to do is put up these two hands and it shows the results,” Gray said, showing off the two rings from Mallard Creek High’s state championships. Everybody’s heard of Mallard Creek, and they’ve played against them, so its easier for me to talk – because they will listen, having played against that program.”
Gray has spent afternoons at Hopewell High since taking the head coaching job, and recently instituted both an off-season weight-room program and spring workouts.
“They’ve bought in fabulously,” Gray said. “I see the excitement, I see them getting to practice on time, I see them coming to workouts on time. The noise has quieted down in the weight room. I even hear from teachers saying the kids are doing better. But we’ve still got a long way to go.
“It’s not by any means by the standards I want to hold them to, but I can see some improvement. That’s the big thing you have to do when you take over a program, you have to take baby steps. I’m seeing some improvement, which is good, but it has to get a lot better for us to be where we want to be. In order for us to become a playoff team year in and year out, it has to get a lot better.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.