CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Three years ago, Justus Woods was racking his brain as a wide-eyed freshman in his first varsity football season trying to figure out how he could make his mark with Charlotte Christian School (Charlotte, N.C.) in order to earn the best possible college scholarship.
One minor tweak and constant training to correct his running form from assistant coach Eugene Robinson and Woods is one of the top running backs in the state and is committed to Stanford.
“Just like that,” Woods said.
Teammate Nathan Collins can relate to Woods’ turnaround.
He decided to transition his soccer skills to the football field this season and kick field goals for the Knights, but three weeks ago, Collins couldn’t even get the pre-kick footing down, let alone boot it through the uprights.
Enter assistant coach John Kasay.
He taught Collins timing on his steps and foot placement; now Collins is nailing field goals from 40 yards out.
“It’s crazy to think about what I’ve learned already,” Collins said. “That’s all because of Coach Kasay, for sure.”
Application tends to be a bit easier when the direction is coming from former NFL stars.
Kasay, a former Pro Bowl kicker who played 22 seasons, serves as special teams coach. Robinson, a former safety who played 16 seasons, serves as defensive backs coach. Joe Jacoby, a legendary offensive lineman who won three Super Bowls with the Redskins’ famous Hogs frontline, coaches the linemen. Pete Metzelaars, a star tight end who played in four Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills, is the Knights’ offensive coordinator.
“Best staff in high school football,” Charlotte Christian head coach Jason Estep said. “I mean I’m biased, but c’mon. These guys are legends and them teaching the guys every day is just invaluable. It adds a level of street credibility that most programs just don’t have. I’ve been here 13 years and we’ve always had pros on staff. We’ve won four state titles since I’ve been here and that’s due in large part to having these guys here.”
Makes sense that, on average, 35 percent of the Knights’ graduating senior football players go on to play college football. Last year nearly 30 percent of the school’s entire graduating class went on to play a sport in college. Mind-boggling? Sure, but you’d almost expect that from a school that produced two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry.
“This is a different environment,” Metzelaars said. “The kids are very much engaged, and for us, football is just football. We’re trying to teach them how to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. It’s a lot of fun.”
Still, that process can be taxing at times for former pros who are accustomed to picking up queues quickly.
Kasay said his first year on staff was the most challenging in that regard.
“It was very frustrating because certain things were common knowledge to me,” said Kasay, whose son, Christopher, plays for the Knights. “But I learned early on that you have to reach the kids on their level and go back to the fundamentals. They’re not all wired like we are and that’s OK.”
Metzelaars found that out right away.
He recalled years back when he first began coaching at Charlotte Christian and noticed that the Knights were scheduled for an opposing team’s homecoming.
“As a competitor at the highest level and being old school I’m telling the kids this and I’m upset about it,” Metzelaars said with a laugh. “But they’re looking at me like ‘And?’ It’s different coaching at this level, but it’s a challenge that the competitor in me loves. Just figuring out different schemes and different ways to motivate the guys is my new rush.”
Robinson can relate.
He said the most important thing in dealing with players on the high school level is balance.
“We’ve gotta remember that these guys aren’t All-Pro players, yet,” said Robinson, who also serves as the school’s wrestling and track coach. “I’ve been coaching here for years so it’s easier now. You just have to get on them when it’s time for that then show them love too. We demand a lot, but the kids respond.”
Jacoby attributes that to relatability.
Granted, Jacoby, Robinson, Metzelaars and Kasay have all played in Super Bowls, and Jacoby is a likely future Hall of Famer, but he’s quick to point out that focusing on the end of his story devalues his process.
Back during his high school playing days, Jacoby only had two scholarship offers; one was for basketball.
“No one gave me a chance out of high school, I wasn’t drafted in the pros and, remember, back then there were 12 rounds,” Jacoby said. “I know they’ve looked us on up Google and things like that, but they’re so engaged. It’s rewarding. Someone was there for me so I have to be there for these kids.”
Woods said that professional support is the key reason he’s been able to fulfill his dream of playing football for the Cardinal.
“We have coaches that have actually been where we want to go,” Woods said. “They know every technique and skill that it takes to get there and them teaching us every day is pretty much the most awesome scenario. You can’t ask for anything better than this.”
Robinson said he “couldn’t agree more.”
“Just to see the impact we’re having on these kids’ lives is so big,” he said. “Yeah, we played at the highest level and had success there, but, at the end of the day, that’s a game. These are lives we’re impacting. That’s even more rewarding in my opinion.”
His “professional” opinion.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY