RALEIGH — When the head football coaches of Carrboro and South Iredell came to the podium at Monday’s pre-game news conference for the North Carolina high school state championships, light laughter floated across the room at Carter-Finley Stadium’s Vaughn Towers.
Though facial hair was rare among the buzz-cut and letter-jacket set of 16 coaching staffs present, the beards of Carrboro’s Jason Tudryn and South Iredell’s Scott Miller stood out.
“I hate mine,” said Miller, a veteran of the U.S. Army and later the Charlotte police force. His players convinced him to start the beard in the preseason as a symbol of team unity, like their shaved heads. “They kept their end of the bargain, so I had to keep it.”
Tudryn kept his beard for much the same reason. The admittedly superstitious Carrboro coach said last summer his beard would be untrimmed as long as the Jaguars kept winning.
Carrboro (15-0) plays South Iredell (13-2) at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Carter-Finley Stadium for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2AA championship.
Even if each team were to bring 2,500 fans, they wouldn’t fill one-tenth of the seats at N.C. State University’s football stadium. But that doesn’t bother either coach.
“I’m telling my players it’s not necessarily a big game; it’s a game in a big place,” Miller said.
Tudryn wants his players to focus on the field.
“I’m going to have to teach the kids not to look at the highlights on the Jumbotron,” Tudryn said. “I just want them to embrace the experience and enjoy every part of it.”
Saturday’s game is the first state football championship bid for either program. Neither had been as far as the state semifinals before last week, when South Iredell used its up-tempo offense to outscore Salisbury 35-28 in the NCHSAA West championship, and Carrboro relied on its defense to outlast Jacksonville Northside 21-14 to win the East title.
“This is a big deal for my players,” Miller said. “We have a lot of kids who’ve never been to Raleigh. The best thing for us is that it’s Carrboro’s first time, too.”
Carrboro’s program has come a long way in the six years since its first football season, which debuted with losses of 47-0 to Graham and 89-0 to Burlington Cummings.
“It would have been easy to just say, ‘Oh, Carrboro will never win.’ But our kids embraced the process and have worked hard,” Tudryn said.
Tudryn said he’s seen signs that his Jaguars’ success is getting noticed. Eating breakfast at Neal’s Deli the morning after Friday’s 21-14 victory at Northside for the NCHSAA 2AA East championship, he saw “Go Jaguars” on the chalkboard along with the day’s specials. In Southern Village, a sign read “Go Jaguars ... Win the state.”
“You’re starting to see that real southern high school vibe carry through Carrboro,” he said. “It’s just awesome for our kids. It’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, guaranteed, regardless of what happens Saturday.”