Lake Norman & Mooresville

Coach brings experience to new Pride program

Jay Poag has been a player and coach at a high level for most of the last three decades.

Poag, who was a standout quarterback at Dalton High (Ga.) before going on to play college football at Davidson, entered the coaching ranks as an assistant at N.C. State, Lenoir-Rhyne and Presbyterian before returning to his alma mater, where he coached quarterbacks and wide receivers from 2003 to 2009.

After a return to the business world, Poag, 48, wasn't ready to walk away from football. That's when Pine Lake Prep came into the picture.

"Football has always been a big part of my life," Poag said. "But as far as coaching goes, I think things have to fit. I had looked at coaching high school football at several private and charter schools, but nothing really seemed right until the Pine Lake Prep football job and program were created."

Behind the scenes for the last year or so, Pine Lake's athletic booster club president Calvin Carter had also been working to make football a reality at the school. Carter says it finally happened in November, when the school's board approved the football program - with middle school, junior varsity and varsity teams starting this summer.

Pine Lake Prep, which is the biggest charter school in the state with more than 1,600 students and draws students from Mooresville, Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville according to Poag, will be nicknamed the Pride.

While a lot of work was involved in the process of making the program a reality, getting the right head coach was a huge step.

"Jay Poag was the perfect guy to lead this program," said Carter. "Not many high school programs in the area have a coach with his experience and his knowledge of the game and the organization of a whole program overall. We feel very blessed to have him and think he is going be a huge asset to our teams."

Poag, who was officially announced as head coach earlier this year, is already knee-deep in working on getting the program running.

Poag had a head start as he has been coaching dozens of the kids now in middle school in the area's little league teams in several sports, including baseball, basketball and football. That familiarity has helped attract friend and family support in forming the Pine Lake Prep football program.

"It's been a whirlwind of excitement for the last few months for me and the program," Poag said. "It's going to be fun to build a program from the ground up, from the players and coaches. I've already gotten to know a lot of these kids, and it will be exciting to continue to watch their development."

Poag says his program is attracting interested students, explaining that more than 100 potential middle school and high school players have shown up for informational meetings.

In the past, Pine Lake Prep, Community School of Davidson and Mooresville Christian had combined forces on independent teams like the Lake Norman Chargers.

But with the N.C. High Athletic Association realignment coming in 2013, schools were much more likely to get into a public school conference if they had their own team.

Poag says the Pride will hope to get into a 1A conference with schools like Bessemer City, Cherryville, Highland Tech, Lincoln Charter, Thomas Jefferson and soon-to-open Catholic school Christ the King,.

In their inaugural season in the fall, the Pride will play an independent schedule with verbal commitments from Bessemer City, Cherryville, Cannon School and Lake Norman Charter to join their 2012 slate. The Pride are hoping to play their "home" games at Lake Norman and Mooresville High during the schools' away weeks, but Poag says plans are still a work in progress.

This week, things are getting more real for the program. Poag will begin working with the Pride's future players to start the school's first organized weight program, to prepare for the upcoming season.

While Poag and his players will play key roles in the teams' success on the field, Carter said the support of the school and the community is an integral part of the program reaching its ultimate goals.

"Football is so much more than just a game on Friday nights," he said. "It's an experience for hundreds of kids and their families and the entire community can be involved. We have a great academic reputation. Now football is a completion of our school, and I think everyone here deserves that experience and is excited about it."