Pirates anxiously awaiting coaching hire
Porter Ridge High has one of the best football programs in the state, but what the Pirates don't have is a head coach.
On the brink of June, Porter Ridge has yet to fill the vacancy created when Blair Hardin left to become coach at Freedom High.
"I'm coaching the team right now," rising senior Nick Vagnone said jokingly on Monday. "It sucks that it's taking this long but we're still working out."
The Pirates were 13-2 last season, and 14-1 the year before, reaching the 4A state championship game both times.
The assistants who helped Hardin build the program into such a powerhouse have been working with the returning players four days a week after school, according to Vagnone.
"I know they feel close to us and us to them," Vagnone said of the staff. "We have players that are scared because they don't know if the coaches who have been a father figure to them the last four years are going to be with us next year.
"The coaches are still working with us, preparing us even though they don't know for sure what is going to happen. I know the players are really hoping all the assistants are still on the staff next year."
A two-time first-team all-Union County linebacker, Vagnone is one of six starters returning on a defense that had four shutouts last season and allowed less than 11 points per game.
Vagnone, who played at 6-foot and 190 pounds last season, said he's up to 205 and recently ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds at the N.C. Shrine Bowl Combine.
"We're going to be a lot faster this year, especially at the skill positions," Vagnone said. "We'll be bigger on the offensive line. I love how hard those guys are working."
Vagnone opened last season as the starting quarterback, but was glad to hand the job over to sophomore Isaiah Hicklin as the season progressed so he could focus on defense.
"Hicklin is getting faster and his arm is getting stronger," Vagnone said.
Vagnone expresses full confidence in athletic director Bill Rogers' ability to find a good coach, pointing out Rogers hired Tommy Knotts at Independence and Hardin at Porter Ridge.
"We just want to find out who our head coach is and get back to normal," Vagnone said. "Every morning I wake up and think 'Maybe this is the day we find out who our new coach is.'"
Vagnone refers to Hardin as "a second father" and says they still talk on the phone twice a week.
"Coach Hardin wasn't just a football coach, he was so much more to the kids," Vagnone said. "He impacted Porter Ridge as a community. Nobody's going to come in and be like coach Hardin, but there are other guys out there with great traits and great character and I'm sure we'll get one of them.
"Hopefully the new coach will help us take it to another level, which is winning the state championship. We're tired of losing in the final game, especially by one point last year (39-38 to New Bern in OT)."
The Pirates, who are 40-5 over the past three seasons, have 10 players returning with starting experience.
Vagnone said the returners are determined to maintain their success.
"No matter who the coach is we're playing for each other," Vagnone said. "That's what we've talked about all spring. I know it's going to say 'PR' on the side of our helmets, and that's who we're playing for."
Porter Ridge is moving out of the Southern Carolina Conference and into a Charlotte-based league that includes Butler and Independence.
"We're pumped to play teams like Butler and Independence," Vagnone said. "We've been hearing for four years about playing teams that can't hang with us. We have a good bit of anger because people doubt us. It keeps us hungry."
The regular season opens in three months, with the Pirates kicking off the season at home against Mount Tabor on Aug. 23.
"I can't wait," Vagnone said. "It's electric during the fall. You walk around school in the winter and spring and it's dead, it's a completely different place. You can feel it in the air when it's high school football season, and it's a feeling I only get to experience one more time. I want to make the most of it."
Porter Ridge's 2013
Aug. 23 vs. Mount Tabor
Aug. 30 at Piedmont
Sept. 6 vs. Providence
Sept. 13 at South Meck
Sept. 20 at Sun Valley
Sept. 27 OPEN
Oct. 4 vs. Independence
Oct. 11 at Garinger
Oct. 18 vs. Myers Park
Oct. 25 at Butler
Nov. 1 at East Meck
Nov. 8 vs. Rocky River