Travis Gaster had felt a very similar feeling to the one he felt last month when he visited Princeton High School and attended a basketball game. It was at his alma mater, Albemarle High School, and the feeling pulled on him more than any he’d ever felt in his coaching career.
And that’s what helped bring Gaster back to Johnston County to coach football. Gaster was announced as the Bulldogs’ new head coach earlier this month. He met with the media while visiting the school this week.
“One thing that struck me was the different age groups in the crowd,” Gaster said of that basketball game. “There were generations there, together: grandparents, parents and kids. Back at Albemarle, you’d see people at games with 30-year-old Albemarle High hats on and 10-year-old championship sweatshirts. I saw the same thing in that Princeton gym that night.”
So Gaster is back in the blue and gold with a Bulldog on his team apparel, just as he was in high school at Albemarle. He replaces Derrick Minor, who led Princeton to a regional championship game appearance, three long playoff runs in the past three seasons and a top-10 finish in the statewide 1A poll before taking the head coaching position at Rockingham County.
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If the name Gaster rings a bell in Johnston County football coaching circles, it should.
Travis is the son of former Smithfield-Selma head coach Jack Gaster, who went onto coach at Albemarle. Travis Gaster was a four-time all-conference and two-time all-state selection for his dad before accepting an appointment to the Air Force Academy and playing there before suffering a injury that ultimately prevented him from playing at N.C. State after transferring there.
After working as a graduate assistant at NCSU, he spent time coaching at East Wake before joining Marc Morris’ staff at Harnett Central. He followed Morris to Cleveland when that school opened in 2010 and was the Rams’ defensive coordinator until leaving with Morris to coach at Carolina Forest High School in Myrtle Beach for the past year.
But through the last few years, he’s missed the community feeling he knew was out there in smaller high schools. He recalled the odd feeling he felt for the past year when he walked in a local restaurant near Carolina Forest and never saw anyone he knew in there.
“I want to go into a Bojangles with my wild toddler son and have people know, that’s Travis’ kid, running around,” Gaster said.
Although the Bulldogs lose a talented senior class that sent four players into the college ranks, including standout running back Johnny Frasier, Gaster likes what he’s seen so far from the returning players.
“I’ve just met with the players and introduced myself on Monday,” he said. “I’m ready to get up here and get the weights rattling again in the weight room. You can see the way these guys have been working in the weight room, it shows in their bodies. … These guys believe in the weight room and that it helped them win games. If you can have that mental edge, you can win games you’re not supposed to win on paper.”
Gaster will join the Princeton staff full time on April 9.
“Travis stuck out to us in a number of ways, not only coaching but also in his personal life,” said Princeton principal Kirk Denning. “I knew his dad, and mom, and the kind of background he has. We’re confident that he’ll help us have a great football program and in the relationships he’ll build in our community.”
Gaster isn’t looking at coaching at the 1A level any different than being in the 3AA ranks or the largest classification in South Carolina. The biggest challenge with a small program, he said, is finding the right fits for assistant coaches because of the limited number of teaching positions.
He describes his ideal team as one that is physical and “runs downhill” on both sides of the ball. And he wants a varied offensive attack, but admits a preference for a great running attack: “if it’s third-and-4 and we’re passing the ball all of the time, something’s not right.”
The Travis Gaster File
High School: Albemarle
College: N.C. State, Undergrad and Masters
Years in High School Coaching: 10
Family: Wife, Sherri; Son, Jacob (3); Daughter, Morgan (6)