GARNER — Thurman Leach brought the first group that saw him as Garner High School’s new head football coach roaring to their feet.
“It was exciting, a little bit humbling,” Leach said of his introduction by principal Drew Cook on Tuesday morning to Trojan players gathered to meet their new head football coach. “It makes you happy to see the kids excited. They see how important the stability we have in this program is.”
Leach is the second former Garner assistant to be promoted to head coach, following in the footsteps of Nelson Smith, who retired to focus on his duties as the school’s athletic director after the 2012 season.
The Trojans have played in the state semifinals for each of the past two seasons and are the only Wake County team to win a state championship (1987) in the past 35 seasons.
“We’re not getting an unknown,” Smith said of Leach. “If you saw the way the kids reacted to it when Mr. Cook told them in the field house that Thurman would be the coach, you would have known we picked the right guy. They were one excited group and they’re the ones that count.”
Garner sophomore back Nyheim Hines was one of those cheering Leach on after the announcement of his promotion.
“He expects the best out of us and he puts hard work into our minds by working hard,” Hines said of Leach. “We know that he has great knowledge for the game.”
The Trojans have been one of the state’s most successful teams over the past three decades. Since Leach joined the staff in 1990, Garner is 229-58, averaging nearly 10 ½ wins a season. The Trojans have played in two state championship games and three regional championships since 1998.
“With more than 23 years of coaching experience in multiple sports, coach Leach will provide strong leadership to our student athletes and to our coaches,” said Garner principal Drew Cook. “As a former North Carolina High School PE Teacher of the Year (2007), coach Leach will also continue serving our students during the regular instructional day as an outstanding classroom teacher.”
Leach joined the staff for the 1990 season and has served as defensive coordinator in recent seasons after spending a season on the coaching staff of his alma mater, Fuquay-Varina.
Leach was a four-year varsity standout on the offensive and defensive lines for the Bengals helping squads coached by the legendary Graham Myrick compile a 45-5 record during his career, then went onto become a four-year varsity starter at offensive guard Gardner-Webb. He earned honorable mention All-American status as a college senior.
Leach doesn’t expect to change Garner’s approach on the field although the Trojans’ sideline will lose more than 60 years combined football coaching experience with the retirements of Smith and longtime assistant Eddie Gray, who will continue as the Trojans’ boys basketball coach.
Veteran assistants Chuck Proffitt (who will become defensive coordinator), Stancil Hines, Brandon Perry and new defensive line coach James Reed and others will be just as important parts of the staff, Leach says.
“Our path has already been laid out,” Leach said “You can’t replace coach Smith or Eddie Gray but coach Smith will be right here when I need to go to someone for advice. We’ll still work hard and I’ll do my best to lead our coaching staff and kids in the way I was taught by Graham Myrick, Hal Stewart and Nelson Smith. It’s a family of coaches here at Garner.
“It feels like nothing’s changing.”
Which might be great news for Trojan fans, but not such good news for opponents.
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