When the Leesville football team takes the field next autumn to the roar of the Loonies student section, a new man will be there to hear the sound for the first time.
That man is Brad Wilson, a 34-year veteran of high school coaching entrusted with the daunting task of restoring a post-Braxton Berrios era Leesville team to its former glory. But while Wilson hopes for success on the field, he’s dedicated to first re-establishing the sense of community surrounding the Pride.
Then the winning, he believes, will follow.
“I’m a big community-type coach. High school football is a community event,” Wilson said in a phone interview exclusive to The Mycenaean. He’s counting on the support of everyone: students and alumni, parents and former parents, the band, the cheerleaders, the boosters and the student body.
“I can’t wait for the first home game when I get to witness the Leesville Loonies,” he added with veritable enthusiasm. “I’m just so excited about it. I want to fast forward a few months so I can get to that first game and walk out and see them going crazy.”
Wilson expects the same unity and passion from his players and intends to implement aggressive strategies on both sides of the ball to take advantage of such fraternity.
“Every player in that program has to buy into one system, has to believe in one another, and has to have the same common goal,” he said.
After coaching the last 11 years at Westminster (Maryland), leading the Owls to one state championship appearance and creating a prestigious program and personal reputation in the greater Baltimore area, Wilson is bringing his wide-open offensive and attacking defensive schemes to Leesville.
The coach plans to install a spread offense with four or five receivers in every formation and an emphasis on passing. “We’re an attacking, fast-paced, no huddle, ‘come after you’ team,” said Wilson of his vision for the Pride.
Clay Vick, rising senior quarterback, will likely be the centerpiece after completing 62.0 percent of 350 attempts for almost 2,700 yards and 21 TDs last season under more conservative coach Mike Hobgood.
On the defensive side, the same underlying aggressive tactics will be present. Fans can expect plenty of blitzes to force opposing offenses into mistakes.
As a coach, Wilson describes himself as disciplined but fun, a man of firm intensity mixed with amiable friendliness. After three and a half decades coaching high school football, he’s also battle-tested to the limit: “Any possible thing you could go through as a high school football coach, I’ve been through,” he attests.
At Westminster, however, the perception of Wilson by players and fans was anything but mixed. “He’s a wonderful coach,” said one former player in the Baltimore Sun’s article on Wilson’s departure last month. “We really bought into his system,” said another.
Wilson helped the team post a 71-48 record over 11 seasons and set a state record when his 2013 QB threw for 63 TDs. Before arriving at Westminster, he had also coached at three other Maryland schools.
But Wilson had long had the Raleigh area in his sights for a retirement destination, and the availability of the Leesville coaching job (and the “great” tradition of the program) caught his interest early. After visiting and meeting with Leesville administration, touring the campus — from the stadium to the hallways during class exchanges — and even attending a swim meet, the school was too impressive to leave.
Nevertheless, the job ahead will be far from the mere continuation of success that it might’ve been had he arrived a few years back. After posting an 83-21 record between 2005 and 2013, Leesville football stumbled to a 5-7 record in 2014, struggling to replace the dynamic stars of years past and wavering the community’s usually steadfast support for the Friday night tradition.
Wilson, however, is nothing but optimistic for the future.
“Whatever happened last year happened last year, and I’m not going to concern myself with that,” he said. “I got to meet quite a few players when I [visited Leesville]. I think the confidence is there, it’s just a matter of…getting the trust going.”
“My goal every year is to go to the state championship. That’s my expectation of myself, of my coaches, and that’ll be my expectation with this team.”