GARNER — The Nelson Smith era of football at Garner High ended Friday night at Trojan Stadium one game sooner than he would have liked, but reflecting on his 12 seasons, Smith had no complaints despite a 14-8 loss to Fayetteville Britt in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA semifinals.
“Coaching here has been a dream come true,” Smith said after an end zone interception as time expired ended his Trojans’ 14-1 season.
“I have been a blessed man. Truly, God has blessed me abundantly.”
Smith finished his football coaching career with a 145-29 record, eight conference championships, two Eastern Regional finals and one N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA title appearance.
His head coaching career began with a 69-7 win against Broughton in 2000. That season the Trojans ended with a 21-20 loss to Fayetteville Byrd when a last-minute touchdown was rendered meaningless by a blocked extra point in a game similar to the his final game.
“You remember the losses,” Smith said. “But that is the way it is. I have never been more proud of a team. They never quit. Never. They played hard in every single game and even when things were going bad, they kept playing. You’ve got to be proud of that kind of effort.”
Smith built a statewide reputation for quick, hard-hitting, well-prepared teams. His players gave great effort and during most seasons never quit battling.
All of his 12 teams qualified for the playoffs and all but two won at least one playoff game. His playoff record was a remarkable 20-13.
“I get way too much credit,” Smith said. “The assistant coaches deserve a lot of the credit.”
Smith recalled his first season at Garner in 1982 when he was an assistant for Hal Stewart. The team finished 2-8. The next year the team was 4-6. The Trojans began their playoff string the next season.
“Kids have bought into the program, what we were trying to do here,” he said. “It is an unbelievable community. People care about the school, its academics and athletics. I couldn’t ask for a better place to work.”
Smith is giving up coaching, but will remain at the school as athletics director. He’ll also coach one more game.
He is the coach for the North Carolina team in the Shrine Bowl Game of the Carolinas.