Chapel Hill: Sports

August 10, 2014

Wildcat football: ‘We’re in this for the long haul’

Holderman is an optimist, which is almost required for anyone who takes over the East Chapel Hill High football program.

It took Mike Holderman four years for the coin to come up tails.

In 2009, Holderman and his wife Jessica decided to start a family. They knew it was time to uproot from his childhood home of Pennsylvania.

He wanted to choose North Carolina because of family ties to the Triangle. Jessica preferred a return to New Hampshire, where she was raised.

There was no bickering, no slammed doors and no nights sleeping on the couch. They just flipped a coin.

Jessica called heads.

Within days, Mike was living in his wife’s childhood home in Conway, N.H., and coaching football at her alma mater, Kennett High.

“Believe me, I wouldn’t have picked it,” said Mike.

However, there was an understanding that within a few years, the couple would take their children and come to North Carolina.

When he applied to become the East Chapel Hill football coach in early June, he envisioned a perfect scenario of arriving at one of the nation’s best school districts.

If only East Chapel Hill had as enviable a football record.

Holderman is an optimist, which is almost required for anyone who takes over the East Chapel Hill High football program. During its 17-year history, East has gone through seven head coaches. None of them have left with a winning record or have ever won a playoff game.

He steps into a program that had 30 players available for practice on Friday morning, two weeks before their first game (Needless to say, there will be no JV team at East this year). There is no quarterback with varsity experience on the roster, and the top skills players from last season are now hanging their hats in other locker rooms.

As much as people will doubt whether East football will ever be a factor, and with all the negativity surrounding the program, Holderman has seen something like it before.

Holderman had to change the program at Kennett. When he became the head coach, they had 55 players. When he left, they had 70. The timetable of football being an August-to-November sport also changed. Holderman instituted year-round weightlifting programs.

He’ll face a similar challenge at East.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” said Holderman, “I’m here because the school is great, and I’m going to have my kids come to school here. To coach the football team is icing on the cake. I have no doubt in my mind we’re going to fix it.”

As much as he is an optimist, Holderman is an emotional family man, and he considers his players family as much as anyone. His meeting with Kennett players to announce his departure was “water works.”

“It was the hardest decision of my life,” said Holderman. “It was one of the most emotional days. Those guys bought into everything we did. Kids put their hoods over their heads. It was very rough to get through that meeting.”

Holderman is so close with his Kennett players, he received a text message on Thursday afternoon from a linebacker who had just set a new personal best in the bench press.

The departure of Jon Sherman (after one season) to return to Fayetteville Byrd as an offensive coordinator was the last straw for some of East’s top returning players.

Starting quarterback Connor Stough transferred to Chapel Hill. Top returning receiver Arkavius Parks also transferred, as did returning left tackle Danny Evers, who headed for St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“I understood this was going to be a project,” said Holderman. “We lost a bunch of kids to transfers, and just watching the film, they all would have been welcomed here. Trying to fill their roles will be rough.”

On top of that, 2013 backup quarterback Sean Mooreopted not to return to the team to concentrate on baseball. That leaves Holderman with two quarterbacks with no varsity experience. Sophomore Brader Gerber and freshman Josiah Barkley will be competing for the top job. Holderman would have loved to have spent a summer with his two understudies taking part in 7-on-7 football, but there just wasn’t the time.

“It’s fine that they don’t have that much experience. We just won’t rely on them that much,” said Holderman, “We’ll hand the ball off and throw it a little to keep defenses honest. These kids have been eager to learn.”

Holderman’s family will remain in New Hampshire until after Labor Day, while he tries to pull the reins on a whirlwind summer. With East’s first game against Northwood just two weeks away, Holderman knows what he’s miss most – and what he’s looking forward to.

“I think I’m going to be a nervous wreck,” said Holderman. “But with any game, whether we clobber somebody or they clobber us, having my 4-year-old daughter to give me a hug makes everything OK.”

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