It’s not uncommon for high school football coaches to look for greener pastures every four or three or two years.
But then there are those who fall in love with a place or a program and make a career of it.
That has been the case for Garner’s Thurman Leach, who moved from his Fuquay-Varina alma mater to work under Hal Stewart in 1990 and remained through Nelson Smith’s long tenure as head coach before taking the reins in his own right in 2013. And the success has never skipped a beat.
“We’ve been very fortunate; I’ve never been associated with a losing season,” said the former Gardner-Webb offensive guard, whose team is looking for its third straight title in the Greater Neuse River 4A and sixth in seven years.
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“This is a unique place,” Leach said. “And to stay 27 years in one spot you have to enjoy the people you work with. Coach (Brandon) Perry has been here over 20 years and Coach (Chuck) Proffitt over 10. I coached Coach (Ronnie) Lee and Coach (James) Reid on the defensive line. And we’ve had a few sets of fathers and sons who have played for us.”
Leach said one trademark of the program has been consistency.
Nothing has been broken, so nobody has tried to fix it.
“The kids believe in what they’re doing,” he said. “They know Garner is going to run a sweep, a belly, a trap and play-action. But we’ve got a little wrinkle and going to make them back up a little bit. (Offensive coordinator) Coach (Adam) Hamrick is going to throw the ball a little bit more. Defense will be multiple; whatever feels good that week.”
As has been the case with some other Wake county schools, the entirety of Garner High will be in a different place this academic year. They’ll be at the eventual South Garner High for two years before the Trojans return to their Spring Drive address for 2018-19.
Senior Matthew Butler, who will play up front on both sides, may be the best defensive tackle in the state and has cut a list of over 20 high-major offers to Duke, N.C. State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Penn State. Tailback Collin Eaddy is drawing ACC-level interest.
Who are some players to watch?
Along with Butler and Eaddy, the Trojans should be solid at most positions.
Leach said the quarterback situation should be steady with seniors Braxton Brokenborough and Cody Carpenter knowing the system. Eaddy and Dwayne Holloway, who was out last season with injuries, will give the Trojans a solid 1-2 punch behind fullback Anthony Stephenson.
Keion White could be a breakout tight-end prospect while Darien Adams and Justin Lewis are the wideouts.
D.J. Harris had eight interceptions last season, while Noah Giroux is one of the area’s most accurate kickers.
Which players will they miss most?
Two of last season’s Trojans are now playing college football, as defensive tackle Desmond Quinerly is at St. Augustine’s and offensive tackle Stephen Moore at Bridgewater (Va.)
Leach said the other biggest holes to fill are at linebacker, where Phillip Credle and Tyler Horton graduated.
“But we feel good at what we’ve got taking their place,” Leach said.
What about the competition this season?
“There are some really good coaches in the Greater Neuse, and nothing’s going to be easy,” Leach said. “We’re going to have to strap it on tight every night and act like every game is the Super Bowl. But if I was a senior I’d have a chip on my shoulder because we can’t play at Trojan Stadium, and we’re going to use that as motivation all season.”
What will determine whether the Trojans are good or great?
“Turnovers and luck and health will determine how good we can be,” Leach said. “And we have to jell together as a unit and get better in all three phases of the game. Turnovers cost us two losses last year, one in the conference to Southeast Raleigh and the other to Northwest Guilford in the first round of the playoffs.”
More on the Trojans
Last year: 9-3 (6-1 Greater Neuse River 4A)
Five-year average: 11-2 (6-1)
Coaches: Thurman Leach (head), Ronnie Lee (asst. head/RB), Adam Hamrick (OC), Chuck Proffitt (DC), Corey Lyons (LB/special), James Reid (DL), Brandon Perry (OL), Tony Wallace (WR), Michael “Smokey” Robinson (RB), Philip Boayue (DB), Stephen Finney (DL), Jake Stevens (kickers).
Contributors: Collin Eaddy (Sr., RB/SS), Dwayne Holloway (Sr., TB), Anthony Stephenson (Sr. FB/MLB), Braxton Brokenborough (Sr., QB), Cody Carpenter (Sr., QB), Keion White (Sr., TE), Matthew Butler (Sr., TE/DE), Dalton Counts (Sr., LB), Roderic Christian (Sr., LB), D.J. Harris (Sr., CB), Djimon Harris (Sr., CB), Justin Lewis (Jr., WR), Darien Adams (Sr., WR), Ronnie Baker (Jr., G), Chris Ellis (Sr., C), Marcus Davis (Jr., DT), Noah Giroux (Sr., K/P).
The main number: 26. The number of seasons, all of them winning seasons, that Leach has been coaching at Garner.
Aug. 19 at Cary 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Cleveland 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Middle Creek 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Leesville Road 7 p.m.
Sept. 16* at Southeast Raleigh 7 p.m.
Sept. 23* vs. East Wake 7 p.m.
Sept. 30* at Harnett Central 7 p.m.
Oct. 7* vs. Clayton 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 BYE
Oct. 21* vs. Knightdale 7 p.m.
Oct. 28* at West Johnston 7 p.m.
Nov. 4.* vs. Rolesville 7 p.m.
Note: *conference game