TARBORO – North East Carolina Prep initiated the opening phase of a new football program this week, and the man the Huskies hired to oversee the implementation was right in town.
Richard Byrd, a former North Edgecombe coach, resides only six miles from the school’s campus and has a long history of winning across North Carolina. A 39-year coaching veteran, Byrd helped turn around the Warriors’ program in the mid-1980s and has been a consistent winner through stops at Fayetteville Cape Fear, Pender Academy and two stints at Southeast Halifax, among others.
Byrd most recently worked for Smithfield-Selma, and said he jumped at a chance to begin a program at North East Carolina Prep.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store, really,” Byrd said.
The school will have its first sophomore class in the 2014-15 school year, so it will field only middle school and junior varsity teams in its inagural season. North East Carolina Prep will be independent for the first year at least.
Byrd said the school hasn’t ruled out a jump to varsity for the ’15-16 school year, though he said he would prefer the following year, when the school has its first senior class.
Enrollment at the school likely would place it in the NCHSAA 1-A classification should its application for membership be approved.
Byrd said 135 kids signed up to play football already, an encouraging sign for someone who hasn’t been official for a week yet.
“We’ll crawl before we can walk and walk before we can run,” Byrd said. “But we feel we can be competitive with our numbers alone.”
Raymond Cobb was the athletics director and defensive coordinator at North Edgecombe during Byrd’s tenure from 1984-86.
The school hadn’t experienced much football success until that time, during which Byrd led the Warriors to their first-ever winning season.
“The thing I remember is his ability to motivate and his enthusiasm. Those are the two big things, and they’re mighty important for a program,” Cobb said. “(At North Edgecombe) the program was almost there, and he brought it over the hump with his motivation.”
Byrd said he expects to be in the 1-A Two Rivers Conference if and when the school is accepted as an NCHSAA member.
Rocky Mount Prep went through a similar process when it begin a football program. The Jaguars started varsity football in 2012 and have gone 2-19 since, though Bryd said he’s “really impressed” with the framework the Jaguars have in place.
Byrd said he’s honored North East Carolina Prep gave him the same chance.
Cobb, who knew Byrd 30 years ago, said it’s a natural place for the coach.
“He’s a good fit for them building that program, that’s for sure,” Cobb said.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com