Orange County

East Chapel Hill hits reset button for football

CHAPEL HILL — After two years coaching the Wildcats, Ryan Johnson has seen enough to know that now is the time to start over with football at East Chapel Hill.

East Chapel Hill will not field a varsity football team next fall, according to Johnson. He said on Monday that the entire football program needs to be rebuilt from the ground up and that means having only a junior varsity squad next year.

"We're not giving up on football at East Chapel Hill," Johnson said. "But we're in a place that if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, it's just not fair or safe for the kids."

East Chapel Hill has gone 1-10 in each of the past two seasons, posting its only two wins against Carrboro, which itself had its own problems with having enough players. The Wildcats didn't win a game in 2014, the year before Johnson took over and only posted a 3-8 mark in 2013 when they had another one-year coach. The best season in recent history for East Chapel Hill came in 2012 when they went 5-6 in third and final year under Bill Renner.

Johnson, who has stabilized the coaching situation at the school, said East Chapel Hill has been caught in a cycle of smaller and smaller classes of juniors and seniors that have not been replenished by incoming freshmen and sophomores. East Chapel Hill was set to have only three players who planned to return for their senior season and only a few more rising juniors, according to Johnson.

"We've been mainly freshmen and sophomores the last two years and they've been tossed into some situations that weren't fair because they weren't as physically developed or skilled as the players they were going up against," Johnson said. "We've had to have everyone on varsity and that has not been good for the long run. By going to and rebuilding with a JV team, it will give us a chance to build some excitement and continuity and bring the kids along in a way that works best for them."

Johnson said the decision was made in the last few weeks as he began to figure out the spring workout regimen for the returning players. He said he counted on about 25 players who intended to play in the fall.

"We're doing this at the right time," Johnson said. "I feel bad for the rising seniors but they understand this is what needs to be done. We've got good numbers from the freshmen and sophomores and we're going to be doing a better job of getting to the middle schools and selling our program to those players."

East Chapel Hill gets almost all of its athletes from Phillips Middle School, and there are a few that come in from Smith Middle and from Culbreth Middle.

"There are a lot of kids who play in the eighth grade that don't continue when they get here," Johnson said. "That's something we've got to change."

Johnson said the plan it to go through the spring workouts using the 21-player model that the N.C. High School Athletic Association has re-instituted. Schools have two spring workout options. They can have a 10 days of full-squad workouts late in the spring or they can work with a maximum of 21 players at a time during numerous workouts throughout the spring workout period.

"We're going with the 21-man option to get the guys out there and maybe attract some new faces this spring," Johnson said. "This will let us get some things implemented that we need implemented as a program. We're also going to be going to the middle schools and letting them know about the plan and program we're undertaking."