A new era began for the Owen football program last week when Nathan Padgett became just the second head coach in three decades.

The hiring seemed like a homecoming of sorts for Padgett, but that term implies that he had left in the first place. He hasn’t. He’s always lived here.

Padgett is a native of Black Mountain. His family has lived in the Valley for generations, and his brother is the chief of the police department.

He and his wife Susan are both Owen graduates, and their daughters cheer in the Owen youth district.

He spent time coaching at Cane Creek Middle School, where he worked with current Rome (Ga.) Braves baseball player and former Roberson standout Braxton Davidson on the diamond. He also coached the school’s football team.

Padgett also put in work as an assistant on the Reynolds football team before ending up at Roberson, where he led a strong junior varsity football program. He was an assistant on the varsity team and coached baseball for several season before switching over to coach softball.

During all that, he never left the Valley.

I had the chance to talk to Padgett just a couple of days after he was hired for his “dream job.” It was immediately apparent why school officials felt that the energetic coach would be a great fit for the job.

Padgett will finish out the school year at Roberson before stepping into his new role at Owen. But when I talked to him, his mind was already racing when it came to Warhorse football.

He is organized, articulate and so passionate that I was ready for football to start immediately after he left my office.

Less than 48 hours into his new position, Padgett was already brainstorming ideas to connect his players to the community in dynamic ways and continue to build upon the family-like atmosphere that has come to be synonymous with the program.

He recalled his time playing under Kenny Ford in the early 1990s, an experience that clearly left a lasting impact on Padgett, who cites many of his former coaches as influential figures in his life. He was adamant that the program will continue to focus on instilling values in its players.

While Padgett is quick to point out that he is not Ford, the two share a defining similarity - an intense love for their home town.

The desire to make the Valley proud was something that Ford used masterfully to motivate his players. Padgett is a great example of how powerful that tool can be.

So while the Swannanoa Valley waits to see what Warhorse football will look like next fall, those who have had the opportunity to talk to Coach Padgett about the future of the program know that it is in good hands.