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Misenheimer turned things around at East Rowan

GRANITE QUARRY — When it finally soaked in that East Rowan went 8-5 and reached the third round of the 3A playoffs — and almost the regional final — your initial reaction was to shout “Do you believe in miracles! Yes!” in your best Al Michaels voice.
But first-year coach Danny Misenheimer, the Rowan County Coach of the Year, was no miracle-worker. This wasn’t any magic-wand deal. Misenheimer didn’t summon any genies by rubbing bottles in the East locker room.
Actually, East’s turnaround from the 1-9 of 2011 and the 2-9 of 2010 was just a triumph of old-fashioned hard work with some old-school mental toughness thrown in.
If you want to compare Misenheimer to a creature of folklore, he wasn’t Paul Bunyan — he was John Henry, the relentless Steel-Driving Man. East’s 2012 football season didn’t start in August. This one went from January to November.
“We did a lot of teaching,” Misenheimer said. “And we really made the weight room pay off.”
Let’s get one misconception out of the way. It’s not like East didn’t have talent. When all the signatures are on paper this spring for Division II and Division III schools, East may have more next-level players in its senior class than anyone in the county.
“We knew what we had physically,” Misenheimer said. “The biggest thing was changing the mental attitude. The biggest challenge for our coaching staff was to get guys to believe they could compete.”
East changed offensive and defensive schemes. East operated the split-back veer offense and executed it well enough that it not only had two 1,000-yard rushers, it had a young QB with nearly 1,500 passing yards. East’s 3-5 stack defense, orchestrated by new coordinator Jason Barnes, held eight opponents to 14 or fewer points, and it limited state runner-up Concord to 14 in regulation in the game in which East was eliminated in overtime. Concord had scored 50-plus in its first two playoff games.
How did it happen? Well, while Misenheimer was no miracle-worker, he was a motivator and an organizer, the same attributes that have made West’s Scott Young and Salisbury’s Joe Pinyan perennial winners.
Misenheimer made good decisions. He had faith in sophomore Sam Wyrick to operate the veer, and it worked out. He moved Jon Novak to center, to solidify the offensive line, and it worked out. He moved Donte Means from backup running back to cornerback and Madison Hedrick from defensive back to running back. Both are on the all-county team.
“Coach Misenheimer got us believing,” Hedrick said. “He said to buy in, put in the time and put in the work, and we’d go places. We were running sprints, lifting weights, flipping tires, swinging sledgehammers for months before the season. Step by step, we made progress.”
There was classroom work to make sure players understood the new schemes and their roles, and when the season began, East was as prepared as anyone has ever been. East stunned Salisbury opening night.
“Huge for morale to show the guys that all the work they put in would pay off,” Misenheimer said. “Very big for our confidence level.”
East slumped after that. A torrent of turnovers and three straight tough opponents plunged the Mustangs to 1-3.
But East stayed the course. The Mustangs entered the Carson game as slight underdogs and made a statement by dominating the Cougars.
Two weeks later, came East’s signature win — breaking West’s 44-game county winning streak with a 13-7 home victory that was preserved by Dustin Mowery’s tackle on the 1-yard line.
“West has a very good program, so to win and to win in the fashion that we did kind of put us over the top,” Misenheimer said. “And our guys went on from there to prove that the West game wasn’t a fluke.”
East finished second in the NPC, was the unofficial county champion and took two playoff games.
“We had success by playing with heart and by playing together,” Hedrick summed up.
It was a rousing run that made Misenheimer coach of the year even in a season in which Salisbury won 11 games, West won 10, and North, under new coach Joe Nixon, doubled its wins total from four to eight.
Misenheimer views 2012 as just the foundation — not the culmination — of what East can accomplish in football.
“I’m already counting down the days — in fact, the hours — until our first game,” he said. “The clock is ticking. On January 26, we’ll get started.”

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