East Chapel Hill adjusting to new football coach
For a guy who’s confident opposing teams will find his offense as tough to solve as cracking the code for a Rubik’s Cube, East Chapel Hill coach Mike Holderman is finding his team a bit of a mystery himself.
That’s because the Wildcats’ newly named head coach arrived in Chapel Hill just a week before the first official day of practice to take the reins of a team that went 2-3 in the PAC-6 4A conference and 3-8 overall under former coach Jon Sherman in 2013.
Sherman departed to take a job as an assistant coach at a Fayetteville high school.
“I’ve never come in this late where I don’t know the kids,” said Holderman, who has 15 years’ experience as assistant coach at NCAA Division III Delaware Valley College in southeast Pennsylvania, on two championship high school teams in Pennsylvania, and most recently as head coach of Kennett High School in Conway, New Hampshire.
Complicating the get-acquainted phase was the fact that some players were still on summer vacation with their families and not at the offseason practices. Most of what Holderman knew about his team he learned from watching game film and talking to his assistants.
“In this empty space of a coach we’ve had some guys jump ship,” Holderman acknowledged.
Those players who did come to pre-season practice “are not losing interest,” Holderman said. “But they were really concerned about who was going to run the ship, are we even going to have a team, so I think that kind of derailed a couple of kids from coming out the first week.”
He said his assistant coaches “are phenomenal” for keeping the program humming amid the uncertainty of who would get the coaching job.
“Just coming in so late and not having the opportunity to have any type of summer offseason with these guys, we’re really behind the eight-ball right now,” Holderman said.
“Stuff that we would be learning in January, February, March, and all through the spring and summer, is stuff that we had to put in day one,” he said.
“With no time in the school, I’ve had no chance to recruit kids, and to make sure kids are coming back who played last year, recruit those stragglers you see in the halls that are 6-4 and 250 pounds that you want to play who never played before,” Holderman said.
On the plus side of the team having a new coach unfamiliar with his talent, “We’re going to have a lot of internal competition at every position,” he said. “It’s a clean slate for everybody to show what they can do.”
The biggest challenge to a rebuilding season with a new coach and new play sets will be roster depth.
“We’re going to be young. We’re going to be very athletic,” Holderman said. “The No. 1 thing I’ve been impressed with so far is their attitude. They’ve been so open to what we’re doing, and they’ve been fun to be around.”
Oh, yes, what they will be doing.
“We’re going to have a different look than East Chapel Hill’s had in a long time,” Holderman said. “What I’ve heard so far from our coaches and players is it’s stuff that’s new to our conference and teams that we’re playing, so hopefully that will give us a leg up when we play these guys year one.“
While the Wildcats were more spread offense last year with four or five wide-outs, “You’re going to see us in some spread sets, but we’re going to be a base double wing set … with a single back,” Holderman said.
“We’re not a Wing-T like the [University of] Delaware Wing-T way back in the day when Tubby Raymond ran it,” Holderman said. “We’ve had a lot of smaller guys that we move around to fill holes. Our blocking philosophy is really a lot of angle blocking and not taking guys on 1-on-1. … We’re more of a hybrid team.”
The Wing-T is a misdirection offense heavy on counters and fakes. The wingback lines up behind the tight end, and on the weak side there is a split end. Holderman is still looking for that tight end.
“Our skill guys are really, really good, so it’s a nice foundation to build a program around,” Holderman said.
“Defensively, I’ve always been a 4-3 guy” with a stud at middle linebacker, he said. “We’re more of a 4-2-5 now, but we’ll run different coverages. It’s very simple for our guys, but looks complex as you try to scout us out.”
One spot Holderman knows is filled is placekicker. Ellis Llewellyn returns this year.
“What a joy,” he said, considering last year his Kennett team had no kicker and he had to run a 2-point conversion attempt after every touchdown.
“I’ll tell you, what a treat and what a weapon” to have a kicker with a strong leg, he said. “We’re going to use that weapon.”