A tribute to Jack Groce II: Quality people kept Groce coaching
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Groce was named on of 100 Administrators to Remember by the NCHSAA. He could have been honored as one of 100 Coaches to be Remembered.
Groce was the head coach at Appalachian High from 1955-65 and at Watauga High School from 1972-76. Groce also coached running backs at Appalachian State from 1966-71 before returning to the high school ranks at Watauga in 1972.
The 1962 Appalachian High Blue Devils may be the crowning jewel of a long line of Groce's successful teams. Appalachian finished the season with an 11-0 record and the 2-A state Region 3 championship with a 39-7 win over Murphy.
Groce said those teams had great support from the community. Appalachian's practice field did not have lights, so if practice went a little longer than expected, the Blue Devils got some help to see the field.
"At Appalachian High School, there was a field just below the high school and that's where we held our practices," Groce said. "The state association didn't put a limit on time of practices, so we tried to practice long enough or short enough to get the things done we had on schedule. Sometimes those practices ran until it was almost dark. I can remember parents coming to pick up their players would shine their car lights on the field so we could finish practice."
The 1961 Appalachian team that won the first of back-to-back state Region 3 2-A championships didn't have a home field since Conrad Stadium, the Appalachian State football stadium that would also be the home of the Blue Devils, was still under construction and would not be ready until the next season.
So, the Blue Devils had to play all of their games away from Boone.
Conrad Stadium was ready in 1962, and so were the Blue Devils. The team outscored 444-40, which works out to an offense that averaged 40.3 points per game. The Blue Devils scored more than 40 points seven times and beat Beaver Creek 53-0.
Appalachian High did not have the most athletic players, but they were well-conditioned and well-schooled in football.
"I think you have to educate kids with the X's and O's about as much as you have to get them physically ready," Groce said. "You have to be educated to win."
The Blue Devils used a Fullhouse T formation anchored by quarterback Tommy Taylor and fullback Bob Matheson, who is one of the best football players to ever play for a Watauga County high school.
When Groce returned to the high school ranks at Watauga in 1972, he used the option to move the football.
"We ran the option," Groce said. "We tried to do what we had the players to do with. We had a team that was better in the option, so we tried to do that. We also tried to be as innovative as possible."
Groce also served as a mentor to other coaches, including Bill Mauldin, who guided Watauga to its last state championship, a 3-A title in 1978.
"I learned a lot about coaching from Jack," Mauldin said. "He is such a good people person. He related to the kids very well. I wouldn't say Bill Mauldin and Jack Groce have the same styles, but we did have the same love of football and our players."
Groce also took a chance at coaching at the college level when he agreed to join Carl Messere's staff in at Appalachian State 1965. Messere was hired to replace Jim Duncan, who had been the coach at App since 1960.
Messere took over the Appalachian State program the same year that all of the Watauga County high schools were consolidated into the current Watauga High School. Groce said he wanted to coach at the college level at the time, and Messere gave him the chance.
Groce coached running backs while at Appalachian State. The Mountaineers passed the ball more than Appalachian High, especially since talented quarterback Pat Murphy was setting passing records during his era.
"Instead of moving to Watauga High School, I thought I wanted to coach in the college ranks, so that's why I went to the university," Groce said. "After seven years there, I decided I didn't want to coach football year-round, so when the job came open at Watauga High, I went back there."
Groce said the biggest difference from college coaching to coaching in the prep ranks is the difference of teaching required on each level.
"In college, you have kids when they get there who are supposed to be more talented and skilled players," Groce said. "You're not teaching skills like you do in high school as much."
Teaching, be it on the football field or in the classroom, was important part of Groce's career. He was a physical education teacher and also taught social studies while at Watauga High School.
He also coached baseball at Appalachian High, golf at Watauga High, and was an assistant principal at both schools.
It was a vocation that seemed tailored for him to do.
"I certainly enjoyed it," Groce said. "I enjoyed working with the kids and working with the administrators and faculty. It was certainly good to get back to the high school," he said.