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Originally published: 2013-02-22 12:53:25
Last modified: 2013-02-22 12:53:25

New coach comfortable in the mountains

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

This is not the first time Ryan Habich has been in the mountains. In fact, Habich had a special moment in Boone 15 yeas ago.

“My wife and I were engaged (in Boone) 15 years ago, so Boone is kind of a special place for us,” he said.

Now, Habich again has made Boone a special place for himself and his family, 15 years later, by accepting the head football coach position at Watauga High School. Habich and his wife, Amanda, have three children. He met local members of the team, media, boosters and faculty Friday at a press conference at the Watauga Media Center.

Habich’s Feb. 14 hiring was made official by the Watauga County Board of Education Thursday.

Habich, 37, replaces Tom Wright, who stepped down after one year as head coach. Wright, who is also the Watauga athletic director, replaced Tim Pruitt, who left in May of 2012 to be an assistant coach at Cherryville.

“We feel that we found a good man,” Watauga principal Marshall Gasperson said. “In the compass of talking to the (school) board, coaches, parents, that was a key thing. He is somebody who can come in and be a good male role model for our students, our young men — both men and women — as a good teacher.”

Habich brings with him an impressive football resume. He was the head coach at Fuquay-Varina High School from 2007-12 where his teams won at least 11 games three times and 10 games another season. The Bengals reached the second round of the playoffs in 2012 after finishing 7-5 overall, 6-4 in the regular season in the tough Tri-Nine Conference.

Overall, his Fuquay-Varina teams were 50-14.

Habich was one of 89 candidates interested in the position, according to Gasperson. Applications came from 24 states, and 46 of the 89 applications were from current head coaches.

He felt returning to the mountains was the right move for himself and his family.

“The first thing is, I played football at Mars Hill College and my wife’s family is from the Asheville area,” Habich said. “We had a desire to get back to Western North Carolina. This is where I want to raise our family. This is where I want to be for a long time. You look at Watauga High School and the vision of Mr. Gasperson with the high academics and what you can do with the athletic program here, it was very enticing and it got me looking into.”

Habich, who was also interested in the East Henderson position, said he was not looking to leave Fuquay-Varina, a community located south of Raleigh in Wake County. But when the chance to return to the mountains presented itself, it was too much for Habich to pass up.

“For me, I felt that I needed to come to Watauga,” Habich said. “East Henderson came open and it was a great opportunity there as well, but I felt led to come to Watauga. It’s where we want to raise our family.”

On the field, the look of Watauga’s sets will change dramatically. Habich used the multiple wingbone offense, similar to what Wofford runs in the Southern Conference, at Fuquay-Varina, and said it’s what the Pioneers will run this fall.

He said the quarterback lines up both under center, in the pistol and in the shotgun formations. Habich prefers to run the ball out of the formation, saying that it’s unlikely the Pioneers will throw 30 times in a game.

“We can do a lot out of the wingbone offense,” Habich said. “We do that based on our personnel. We’re very similar to what Wofford ran the past five years.”

Habich said his Fuquay teams did not necessarily have the most talent, but they won with brains and effort.

Habich has done his homework when it comes to Watauga’s personnel. He’s read about the Pioneers on the Internet and said he’s anxious to meet them. Some players, including quarterback Aaron Dobbins, attended the press conference Friday.

“I think we’re going to have some hard-nosed kids who are willing to work and who are very disciplined,” Habich said. “It’s going to be very similar to what we had at Fuquay. I think you can win — we don’t have to be the most talented team, but if our kids work together and play as a team, we can be successful.

“It’s going to be a process as to how we get there. It may not happen on day one, but we’re going to get to where we need to get to.”

Habich did his student teaching at A.C. Reynolds, which used to be a member of the Northwestern Conference.

“I always kind of followed Watauga High School when I was in Florida and out east at Fuquay-Varina,” Habich said. “I remember in (2006) and (2007) when Watauga beat A.C. Reynolds in the playoffs with that team, so I have been following Watauga High School.”