As the temperatures get cooler and the sun sets earlier, Holly Springs football gets better. But over the last two seasons, that’s been too little too late for the Golden Hawks. They made the playoffs last year and were 6-6. The year before they were 4-6.
The conference-nonconference split is telling. The Golden Hawks are 8-7 against Southwest Wake Athletic 4A Conference foes but 2-5 before starting league play.
Enter new coach Wayne Bragg, who accepted the job in February but couldn’t leave his post as Green Hope athletic director until June.
“That made for some long days when I was (at Holly Springs) at 5:30 (a.m. for morning workouts) and then staying at Green Hope until 9:30-10 o’clock at night,” Bragg said. “A couple of times I’m like ‘What am I doing?’ But we got through it. It’s one of those things where you started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Prior to his two years at Green Hope, Bragg was the first football coach in Panther Creek history. He went 29-32 with a 13-2 run to the 4AA state semifinals in 2010.
Bragg had success at Panther Creek with a pro-style set. That’s good news for senior tight end Wade Johnson, who has played wide receiver and quarterback.
“He might be our No. 1 or No. 2 receiver. You know me, I like throwing to the tight end some,” Bragg said.
Still, there are many questions on offense. Aside from senior tackle C.J. Toogood (6-2, 260), the offensive line lacks experience. Bryan Beck, Kyle Davis, Max Brooks, Elijah O’Neal and Alex Simpson will all factor into the equation.
Broderick Taylor, Wayne Jones, Michael Kaliankas and Elijah Mebans are fighting for playing time at receiver.
Senior Bijan Emami and sophomore Justin Armwood are competing for the starting quarterback spot.
“Right now they’re splitting series,” Bragg said. “We could even go into the first game where one’s playing one series, one’s playing the next series and in the second half we’ll go with whoever’s hot.”
The running game should anchor the unit. Junior Tray Staten (5-11, 185) returns after a breakout 1,504-yard season with 21 rushing touchdowns.
Staten was pushed into the starting role just before the 2013 season after an ACL tear to Nehemiah Harris. Harris, now a senior, had 808 yards and 11 TDs on the ground in 2012 as a sophomore and is still hoping to play.
Robert Furth is the team’s new defensive coordinator after spending last year at Cary High. He’ll try to improve a unit that allowed 29.9 points per game by implementing a scheme with three down lineman. Cary used both 3-4 and 3-3 stack defenses.
The linemen – Omar Salem, Daniel Ligons, Tony Brown and Mike Brooks – are young.
The secondary – corners Yavel Morris and Jovan Wooten, free safety Eddie Okeiga and strong safety Greg Picquet – are young, but experienced.
The linebackers are the team’s strongest position.
All-conference performers A.J. O’Neal and Marcus Cox, who each could see time at receiver, return while Josh Dickerson moves from fullback to linebacker.
Josh Howard will take over kicking and punting duties.
At team camp at Campbell, Bragg got some insight on his team’s last two years. When fully engaged, they were tough. Mistakes piled up when not.
“That’s one of the reasons I really am trying to get them to focus and do things the right way,” Bragg said.