It’s been nearly 10 years since he played a professional football game for the Carolina Panthers, but Cannon School coach Brad Hoover said he still misses teammates and playing the game.
“Oh, man, I miss it every day,” Hoover said this week. “I miss the locker room more than anything, and (coaching football) is the closest thing that gets me back on the field and lets me share what I’ve learned.
“ I try to use the knowledge I’ve gained as a player to help influence these kids I coach. It’s still competing, only I can’t stay on the field anymore.”
After retiring from the Panthers, Hoover, 40, briefly was co-owner of a small company that sold medical supplies.
“I was too honest for corporate America,” he told the Observer in 2013.
That was the year Hoover started coaching high school football - first at Monroe’s Union Academy, which he led to a 6-6 record, at the time tied for the best mark in school history.
In 2014, Hoover coached Marvin Ridge for one year, and then he landed at Cannon, a private school just across the Mecklenburg County line that opened in 1969.
Cannon has had one winning season since the school started varsity football in 2010. But Hoover’s first two teams were 6-6 and reached the N.C. Independent Schools Division II state semifinals. His third team is off to a 3-1 start and plays at 4-1 Division I private school Providence Day (4-1) Friday night at 7.
This appears to be Hoover’s best team at Cannon.
“Football,” he said, “is like a game of chess. You always adapt, but stay with the same game plan. But at the end of it, it’s about seeing your kids succeed. It’s not you personally sometimes.
“You put everything out there, but when they finally do ‘get’ it, that’s what I look for as a coach. That’s what makes me feel good.”
Hoover was once one of those players trying to ‘get it.’ He was a high school standout at Ledford in Thomasville, where he was good enough to be invited to play in the Shrine Bowl All-Star game. In college, he starred at Western Carolina and is one of the school’s all-time leading rushers. Hoover went undrafted in 2000, but he joined the Panthers as a free agent.
Few would’ve guessed back then that Hoover would become one of the Panthers’ all-time most popular players.
Carolina fans scream “LUUUUUKE” now after big plays from All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. They used to scream “HOOOOV,” too.
That took off in a game against Green Bay in November 2000, Hoover’s rookie season. He was moved from fullback to tailback and ran for 117 yards in a 31-14 win over the Packers. Afterward, Carolina coach George Seifert said of Hoover: “We thought we had somebody that had multiplicity in his abilities.”
Hoover played 10 years for the Panthers as a 6-foot, 245-pound fullback. When he left the team before the 2010 season, he ranked third all-time in Panthers games played (152) and seventh in starts (95).
“When things were difficult,” said former Panthers coach John Fox, “he was a leader and someone both the players and coaches knew would always be accountable. On the field, he was the ultimate competitor and set a physical tone in both his style of play and attitude.”
Today, Hoover remains in touch with former Panther teammates such as receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith and defensive lineman Mike Rucker. He said he also talks to current Panthers players Ryan Kalil and Thomas Davis, but he doesn’t attend many games. Hoover said he attended two games last season as a guest of the Panthers, and he took his family -- wife Brandi and two pre-teen daughters -- to another.
“It’s not that I don’t want to be there,” he said, “but I’d just personally rather watch it at home and enjoy the comforts of home. I still root for them. I’m a big fan and I’m probably overly critical at times. I guess I watch (with a) coach’s eye now. But I owe a lot to the Panthers’ organization.”
In coaching football, Hoover said he believes it’s something he wants to do for awhile. He’s not sure if he’ll ever try coaching in college or professionally, but he is sure he wants to coach.
“I like what I do and enjoy what I do, and I kind of started at high school because it’s the most pure level of football,” Hoover said. “I’m very passionate about what I do and I take it very seriously, sometimes too seriously. ...
“But (I’m) feeling good and I want to think I’ve had a successful transition from player to now coach and I want to continue coaching. I really enjoy coaching high school kids, trying to build relationships and be a positive role model.
“The dedication and hard work and all the intangibles I learned from playing are still there and drive me. I hate to lose and you’re going to lose at this level, but you soak it up and look for a different way to attack next time. That’s the fun in this, and I hope to continue to do this for awhile.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr