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CLAYTON — After a lengthy search, Clayton High School has found the man who will lead its football program out of a turbulent year and into the future.
Shane Handy, the longtime head coach at 2-A Randleman High in Randolph County, becomes just the fifth coach of the Comets in the program’s 61 years.
Handy said that while he wasn’t looking to leave Randleman, the opportunity to coach at Clayton wasn’t one he could turn down.
“They presented the thought, and I wasn’t really looking for a change at this point, but I was willing to talk to them, and after talking to them and looking at the opportunities ahead of us there, I felt like it was a great opportunity for a new challenge, and I felt like you can go there and be successful...,” Handy said.
“I’m pretty excited about the young men there and the abilities they have, and I just want to continue to work hard in that weight room and keep getting better.”
Handy inherits a program that had a 6-6 record last season, finishing second in the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference behind Cleveland and losing to Southeast Guilford in the first round of the state playoffs.
Over the course of 12 seasons at Randleman, Handy compiled a record of 95-53, including a 13-1 mark last season. The Tigers reached the fourth round of the state 2-AA playoffs, losing to Salisbury, the eventual state runner-up.
When it comes to his new job, Handy intends to duplicate the success he had at Randleman 90 miles away, helping to continue what has been a proud football tradition at Clayton.
Handy’s final day at Randleman was Friday, and he started at Clayton this week. The coach moves Johnston County, a new area to him, but he’s familiar with the history of the program he’s inheriting.
The two coaches whose names are memorialized on the Comets’ stadium — Gary Fowler and Glenn Nixon — are coaches Handy knows well. Fowler used to bring Clayton to Catawba College for camp when Handy was a coach there.
“Gary and I became friends, and I recruited his son,” Handy said.
While Fowler’s son eventually chose Air Force, Handy coached Nixon’s grandson at Catawba.
In addition to knowing coaches who have meant a lot to the program, Handy has several close friends who live in the area, and he was drawn to Clayton because of its close-knit feel.
“I liked the town,” Handy said. “I liked the small-town feel.”
Turning to the future
Handy is also familiar with the issues the football program and school have faced in the past year.
Last spring, the N.C. High School Athletic Association fined the program and placed it on a year’s probation for an illegal workout during the spring dead period. In June, Johnston County Public Schools opened an internal investigation into the eligibility of one football player.
On Aug. 12, in the midst of that investigation, then-superintendent Ross Renfrow transferred popular Clayton High principal Bennett Jones to another job in the school system. (He eventually returned to the high school.) Later in August, just three days before Clayton’s football season began at Richmond County, head coach Hunter Jenks resigned, saying he had accepted a job opportunity that was closer to his home and would be better for his family.
Jenks, who was hired in 2016, had been responsible for one of Clayton’s best season’s ever in 2017, a 13-1 run that included a conference title.
With Jenks gone, former West Johnston head coach and Clayton assistant Robert Senseney became interim head coach for the season.
With all that went on at the high school taking its toll on the community — and its football program — Handy wants to turn the attention from the past to the future.
“Those things, to me, are not even a concern, really,” Handy said of the scandals that rocked the school. I couldn’t care less.”
“I like the principal,” Handy added. “Dr. Jones is a fired-up, gung ho principal that brings a lot of energy to the campus, and that’s what I’m about. That’s where I’m focused in right now is bringing energy to the program.”
Handy’s embracing the fresh start that comes with his hiring. “It’s a new era, and we’re going to start fresh, and man, I couldn’t care less what’s in the past,” he said. “I really have no problem with whatever went down. I just know that these guys are hungry; I think the kids are hungry to be better, to be successful, and so, those are things that I look forward to bringing to the table.”
Handy said he knows how important football is to the Clayton community, and because of that, he will make sure he and his program make a positive difference in the community.
“We’re going to do it right,” Handy said. “We’re going to take care of our business, we’re going to do the right things to promote our program within our halls and our middle schools and build young men to be successful and to help our community. That’s what we’re going to do.”