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KENLY — This time last year, Michael Barnett was applying to Goldsboro High, the school where his senior son played football.
Barnett thought he would get the job. He didn’t.
Barnett was upset, because after 16 years of coaching high school football as an assistant, this was his time. He was ready.
“On a selfish level, I was upset, but realistically the guy that got the job had much more experience, he was a great coach, and had a phenomenal track record,” Barnett said. “He’s the one that should’ve been hired.”
Barnett now sees that his time wasn’t God’s time, as a year later, he was announced as the new head coach of the North Johnston football program. In fact, the rejection prepared him for this moment. With the rejection came an opportunity to serve on staffs at both schools.
“It was wonderful because I got to see multiple coaching styles, multiple offenses and defenses and probably watched more film than I’ve ever watched in my life,” Barnett said. “I learned a lot. It allowed me to see how two successful people do things differently.”
The opportunity became available for Barnett when former head coach Jonathan Riba resigned after last season ended. Barnett was hired four days before the end of 2018, but was officially introduced Feb. 4 along with three of his four assistants. Barnett retained Jeremiah Holland and Chris Barnett (no relation) and added Stephen Allard and Pierre Dickerson.
The coaching staff said they are excited to get started, and the start begins with spring ball, to which they hope to have 30 to 40 players attend.
“We’re getting back to what we love to do — coach and teach young men how to play football the right way,” Holland said. “Excited is an understatement.”
Holland has reason to be excited. The 24-year-old graduate of North Johnston is taking over as offensive coordinator and will oversee the offensive line. Allard played his varsity football at 2-A Eastern Plains Conference foe Farmville Central.
Although an age difference exists on staff, the group feels the disparity creates a good synergy. They feel the chemistry has been good since day one, and the product on the field will refelect that.
“We all believe in each other,” Allard said. “It’s not just one man taking charge, even though it is Coach Barnett as the head role he’s really open to opinions for other things that might benefit the team. Just trying to find ways for our teams to be successful in the future come August.”
Principal Ben Williams said during the press conference, wins and losses weren’t as important as bettering their students’ lives in the decision to hire a new coach. Barnett, 46, said while winning is important, he has four pillars for his program: class, work, community and faith. He wants to instill that in his players by being a good example to follow.
Community is especially important to Barnett, because he said since he’s become head coach, he can see people opening up their arms to try to help his team and program be successful.
“Everybody wants to build it,” Barnett said. “We’re all one family and we’re all pulling together to make it better. With the community together behind us, it helps keep the kids right and teaching the kids right. It makes it easy when there’s 50 people pulling the load instead of one person.”
Barnett hopes to get a grassroots football program started in Kenly. He’s already spoken with recreation league coaches and hopes to get more unity there to help kids grow up in similar systems. The idea comes from Barnett’s hometown of McLeansville, where kids who played Pop Warner football grew up and wanted to be varsity football players. He hopes that becomes the expectation in Johnston County.
“We hope get things more linear — not talking about people change their offenses or anything — but change some of their terminology and ideas and focus on the mental and physical tought,” Barnett said. “Trying to get things to where kids have expectations set at eight and nine are the same expectations set as juniors and seniors.”
Barnett said his team will run an option offense and an “aggressive style” defense. He said both will look complicated, but in actuality, be simple.
“We want the kids to play, not to think,” Barnett said. “We’re not a Division I college. Our middle linebacker might be our starting guard; he might have a biology test tomorrow. We want to make it simple enough that everybody on offense can call the plays and everybody on defense can call the play. We don’t need 47 different fronts. We know the basics of what we’re going to do.”
“We’re going to line up and come get you and hope to out execute you.”