Leesville Road’s new football coach says job was ‘too good of a situation’ to turn down

Leesville Road moved quickly to find its new football coach and the Pride didn’t have to look far.

Former Cary and Sanderson coach Ben Kolstad will lead Leesville next season, taking over for Chad Smothers, who left last month to become the athletic director at Green Hope.

Kolstad left Sanderson after last season for a position with Orange High School, where he started as an assistant on Feb. 15 and went through spring practice with the team.But when Leesville principal Ian Soloman called, Kolstad couldn’t turn down the offer. The two previously worked together at Cary High.

“I enjoyed working for him then and this came open,” Kolstad told The News & Observer Wednesday in a phone interview. “It’s just kind of crazy how it all happened at once and came into play.”

Kolstad wasn’t looking to make a move, he said, but after taking “a lot” of time to think about it, he agreed to take the job.

Kolstad said the hardest part is leaving the players and coaches at Orange who were counting on him. But Kolstad called the chance to coach at Leesville “too good of a situation to not take.”

He inherits a team that could make a deep playoff run. Since 2017, Smothers led the Pride to 18 wins and two straight trips to the playoffs. Last year the Pride went 10-3 overall and 5-1 in league play. Two of their three loses were to eventual 4AA champion Wake Forest. Their third loss came to Cap-7 champion Cardinal Gibbons.

Unlike when he took over at Cary and Sanderson, Kolstad said the Leesville Road job won’t be a rebuild.

Kolstad, 41, was the coach at Cary for nine seasons before going to Sanderson. At Cary, he was 65-46 overall with one conference title in 2005. The Imps never missed the playoffs under Kolstad’s leadership.

Kolstad took over at Sanderson in 2013 and the Spartans hosted a playoff game for the first time in school history in 2016. Sanderson went 35-36 with two playoff appearances during that time.

He changed the cultures at Cary and Sanderson, but said the goal at Leesville is to make the culture better than it already is.

“Which in term will create wins,” Kolstad said. “And create quality husbands and fathers and things like that. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the kids at Leesville, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The Pride recently finished their spring practice, but Kolstad still has about two months to get to know his new team. This is the latest in the year he’s taken a job in his coaching career, so he feels behind a bit.

“I’m used to coming in in January and February,” Kolstad said. “But there’s enough time. I have my hands full in trying to hire a great staff and that’s the key. You look at successful programs and it’s groups that have steady staff’s and they do it the right way. That’s a key piece in this boat.”

The Pride opens the season on Aug. 23 against Wakefield.

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.