The football program at Wake Christian Academy comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.
So when the head coaching position became available, the Bulldogs decided to stay within the Wake Christian family and hired Stephen Cochran to help lead the Bulldogs into their second season in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association’s Big East Conference.
Cochran, who served as the defensive backs and special teams coach for Wake Christian in 2009, returns to lead the program after a three-year stint as the head coach at Mount Dora Bible High School in Mount Dora, Fla.
“The opportunity came available to come back here so I decided to make that move and it has been a blessing,” said Cochran of his decision to return.
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The Bulldogs, coming off of a 2-10 campaign that included a first-round NCISAA state playoff loss to Arden Christ School, will do battle Friday nights this fall with just 21 players on the roster.
The compact roster, a byproduct of being at a smaller private school, is something that Cochran knows has its advantages and disadvantages.
“It does come with some obstacles,” admitted Cochran. “The biggest thing I see is depth. Other schools might cut 30 (players) but you can come over here and play some ball.
“We’ve got some talent to start out with but the key will be to see if we can stay healthy.”
Fortunately for Cochran, the one area the Bulldogs have the luxury of having a little depth in is at the quarterback position.
Dubbed the “good ole boys” because of their first names’ similarity to the main characters from “Dukes of Hazzard” fame, senior Beau Barger and junior Luke Ryals both return as experienced signal callers for a team that will need to rely on its versatility in the option-based offense Wake Christian will use.
“We’re really in good shape at the quarterback position,” said Cochran who is not only impressed by the duo’s ability to play the position but also their ability to be leaders. “My leaders like Beau and Luke – they understand exactly what I’m talking about and they’re doing it.
“There’s really great character in this group; I’m not having to over coach effort.”
Also providing some senior leadership for the Bulldogs are Grayson Floyd, Sam Moss and John Pompliano.
Juniors Jonathan Earnest, John Fuller, Cameron Hinnant and Hunter Wilson all return from last year’s Bulldog squad while Wake Christian also looks for big things from Garner High School transfer C.K. Harris.
Pompliano’s ability to catch the ball and learn the ropes at the wide receiver position figures to be a key asset for Wake Christian, as does the athleticism and play-making prowess of Kyle Patterson and Andrew Spain.
It may be on the defensive side of the ball, however, that Cochran will put his stamp on this edition of the Bulldogs.
Cochran, a former free safety in his days at Fuquay-Varina High School, is preaching to his team to swarm to the ball on defense.
“That’s got to be our trademark,” said Cochran of the emphasis on defensive intensity and teamwork. “We’re going to hustle like crazy and we’re going to fly to the football.
“You’re not guaranteed to win a game if you play as hard as you can, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to lose a game if you don’t play very hard.”
Cochran, who entered the coaching profession after a decade-long foray into the home construction business, looks to continue to build onto a program that has already taken a lot of positive steps in recent years under the direction of Randy Johnson and David Williams.
In addition to a surplus of players with high character, Wake Christian’s new practice fields, completed just before the team’s first practice, are a big indication of how far the program has come. The Bulldogs practiced on the softball field just four years ago when Cochran was on staff.
With the foundation set, Cochran looks forward to a positive first season at the helm for Wake Christian.
“We’ve got some really good young men working hard,” Cochran said. “If we play to the best of our abilities, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.
“Let’s be the best football team that we can be and let’s see what happens.”