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Spring football workouts begin with three new coaches

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

It’s partly about gaining familiarity for members of Eastern Alamance and Southern Alamance football teams as they go through respective spring practices.

“Everybody getting used to each other and them getting used to me,” new Eastern coach Mitch Mitchener said.

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Eastern football coach Mitch Mitchener

Mitchener replaced retiring John Kirby, who held the position with the Eagles for more than three decades. So that seems like seismic change.

For Southern, Tony McCants is in place as coach after arriving from McMichael. The Patriots were Central 3-A Conference champions last year under Fritz Hessenthaler, who was fired during the opening week of the state playoffs stemming from an off-field incident that’s still widely debated.

Southern football coach Tony McCants

Those teams began their workouts last week, though Southern had glitches because of the weather.

Three of the seven football-playing high schools in Alamance County have new head coaches. At Graham, coach Mykel Searcy said the Red Devils will begin spring workouts May 20.

Graham football coach Mykel Searcy

Southern nixed its first practice date because of storm concerns, rescheduling that session. Then the Patriots’ first workout was shortened based on a lightning detection.

“It’s a rough start because Mother Nature isn’t cooperating,” McCants said.

Southern had 58 players – a number that only includes current freshmen, sophomores and juniors – at its initial spring workout. Several other potential players were participating in spring sports seasons, so the numbers will grow.

“You get to see who has made gains through the winter,” McCants said. “It’s a good opportunity to see them out there and some of the things they can do.”

Other than Hessenthaler’s absence, the Southern coaching staff is mostly the same, with just a couple of departures among assistant coaches. Scott Smith had previously determined that 2023 (when his son Wesley Smith played as a senior linebacker) would be his final season, while Alexander Cox will be moving on.

McCants said it’s hoped the position Cox, who oversaw defensive linemen, held can be filled once the school’s teaching vacancies are determined in the coming weeks. Cox is also a former wrestling coach at Southern.


Eastern had close to 50 players at workouts, which were held at a Woodlawn Middle School field because the normal practice area in the high school’s baseball outfield was in use by the baseball team.

“We like the numbers that we had,” Mitchener said. “We were very fortunate that we were able to finish practice (and not be interrupted by storms).”

Mitchener, a Western Alamance alum and former assistant coach for the Warriors, has more staff spots to fill.

Returning assistant coaches are J.T. Kirby (son of the former coach), Torrance Carle, Jalen Hester, and Kenny Moore. Former Graham and Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman, who coached last year at Woodlawn Middle School, has been assisting at workouts.

Mark Woody, a former head coach at Carson (in China Grove) and an assistant coach at Northern Durham, is on board as a defensive assistant. Other spots will be filled when possible.

“The biggest thing is with the allotment with the school system (of teaching positions),” Mitchener said. “We’re trying to be patient.”

Eastern’s support staff started splintering even before Mitchener’s hiring. Matt Ayers was among the first gone when Williams announced February 5 that he would be on board as the lead manager of football operations for the Bulldogs.

It was often a crowded sideline at Eastern. Numerous volunteer coaches and aides had pledged loyalty to John Kirby, indicating that they would stick with the Eagles as long as he was running the program.

Teams can have 12 spring practice dates, generally spread across three weeks in May. Weather concerns and other conflicts often alter the spring dates used.

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