Building from the bottom up
There is no doubt that football is a game of strength. Raw physical power can often be the difference between winning and losing, and so can a strong will and determination. So it stands to reason that when building a football program, it's important that it stands on the strongest foundation possible.
That's exactly what first-year head coach Calvin Cross is doing with the junior varsity Owen Warhorses.
Cross is not new to coaching at Owen - he has been on varsity head coach Nathan Padgett's staff since the 2015 season.
"Coach Cross and I first worked together when I was at Roberson," Padgett said. "When I got the head coaching job here at Owen, he was one of the first people I called."
Cross, a graduate of Mars Hills University and former cornerback for the Mars Hill Lions under defensive backs coach Kevin Barnette, is now in his third season of coaching the varsity secondary. He was the junior varsity team's defensive coordinator the last two seasons.
When Clint McElrath stepped down as head coach of the junior varsity program to become the school's varsity boys basketball coach, Cross jumped at the opportunity.
"We needed a JV head coach, and I was asked by Coach Padgett," Cross said. "He knew one of my goals was to become a head coach of a football team."
Cross actually stepped into his first head coaching job with a 1-0 record.
"Last season Coach McElrath had to take a week off, and we were playing Reynolds," Cross said. "So I filled in as the interim coach. I guess it was my coaching debut."
The junior varsity Warhorses beat the Rockets 18-15 in 2016. Cross's game plan worked exactly as he had hoped.
"We really focused on holding the ball and keeping it out of Reynolds' hands," Cross said. "We relied on a strong running game and tough defense."
That's the formula Cross is employing this season, which the junior varsity has opened with a 3-1 record. The first-year head coach gives credit for the early success to Padgett and the rest of the Owen coaching staff, as well as the young players.
"These coaches and kids put in the time and effort," Cross said. "It really shows every Thursday night."
Cross points to coaches like Rob Meyers, Chuck Meyers (no relation) and Curt Presley, the offensive coordinator for the junior varsity team and member of the varsity staff, as having key roles in the development of the players on his team.
"It's been a total team effort," he said. "Curt, a proud graduate of Owen High School; coming on as the offensive coordinator has been big. His energy has added a lot."
Cross, who is in his seventh year working at Community High School in Swannanoa, is encouraged by his team's performance so far this season. The 25 players on the roster have been working out in preparation for the season, which opened on Aug. 17 with a win at home over Enka.
"We have a smart young quarterback in Caleb Scott," Cross said. "Blake Roberts is a nice running back, and Myles Tate is doing a great job at fullback and linebacker on the defensive side of the ball."
The progress shown by the players on the junior varsity is important, according to Padgett.
"Our JV team is our future," he said. "We recognize that, and those players receive the same coaching as our varsity players. All of our staff, including myself, coach those players up. We feel like this helps strengthen our entire program through the development of our younger players."
Cross looks at it as though he is tasked with forming a solid foundation on which the entire Owen football program can build in the future.
"It's like when you build a house," he said. "You don't start building the roof, you start at the bottom and make sure it's strong."
While helping Padgett and the rest of the coaches build a strong football program is hard work, Cross said there's nothing else he'd rather be doing.
"I love football," he said. "I love helping young athletes reach their goals. I remember playing JV football in high school and looking for the opportunity to play varsity. I remember thinking if I ever had the opportunity to work with kids, I was going to make sure to help those who really wanted it, no matter how athletic they are."
That's exactly the opportunity Cross has here in the Swannanoa Valley, a community he said he's grown to love in his time on the Owen coaching staff.
"Everyone has welcomed me with open arms," he said. "Our kids have a lot of pride in where they're from. Their motivation to improve comes from their love of this place too."