High school football: North looking for new head coach

Published 12:01 am Thursday, February 16, 2023

By Mike London

SPENCER — North Rowan is in the market for a new football coach.

Rumors swirled for a few days before Nygel Pearson made the official announcement that he is leaving North Rowan to head the program at Spring Valley High, a 5A school in Columbia, S.C.

“It’s an opportunity for me and my family that I couldn’t pass up,” Pearson said. “And getting back home to South Carolina is a plus.”

Pearson’s hire was approved at a school board meeting on Tuesday. Pearson plans to meet with his new team — the Spring Valley Vikings — today. The 36-year-old Darlington native plans to be moved back to South Carolina in time for the spring drills that take place in May.

He’ll be taking over a program that won four games last fall and lost in the first round of the playoffs, but it’s a program known for quality athletes and top-notch facilities.

South Carolina newspapers reported that Pearson was Spring Valley’s choice out of 45 applicants for the job. He’s got some impressive credentials.

In his high school playing days at Darlington High, Pearson made all-star teams. He was a good enough player to be offered by Central Florida and a sharp enough student to be offered by Princeton. He wanted to stick close to his family, so he headed 90 minutes south to Orangeburg to play football for South Carolina State.

A 6-foot-6, 305-pound bulldozer of an offensive lineman, he made second team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as a senior in 2008. As a scholar, he was a semifinalist for the Draddy Award that goes to college football’s top student-athlete.

He was an assistant coach for two years at Fairfield Central High School in Winnsboro, S.C., north of Columbia.

In 2010, he he returned to South Carolina State. He coached tight ends, then fullbacks, then the offensive line. Then he had a stint as offensive coordinator.

He got married. He earned a masters degree.

His time at South Carolina State, ironically, intersected with the arrival of one of the best players in South Carolina State history — North Rowan graduate Javon Hargrave — who became a two-time FCS defensive player of the year.

“What I remember about Hargrave is that sometimes we’d have to take him out of scrimmages, so our offense could get some work in,” Pearson said with a laugh. “Big hips and big butt, but he was so quick. He was not blockable.”

In 2017, Brian Hinson left his job as the Catawba College offensive line coach to take charge of the program at Salisbury High.

It’s a small world. Curtis Walker was Catawba’s head coach and Walker, had tried as a Coastal Carolina assistant to recruit Pearson out of high school.

So they knew each other and trusted each other. Pearson got the Catawba job as o-line coach and running game coordinator. That brought him to Rowan County.

By 2020, Pearson was ready for a new challenge. He applied for the North Rowan head coaching job that was vacated when Ben Hampton headed to South Carolina’s Socastee High, near Myrtle Beach.

Pearson’s three seasons of leading the Cavaliers weren’t fantastic, but they were solid — 5-3, 8-4 and 7-5.

Those 20 wins included four that came in the 1A state playoffs.

“The year I was hired was the pandemic year (2020) and I was just trying to hold the program together,” Pearson said. “That was a baptism by fire, but we had some good leaders on that team, guys like Zay Davis and Tsion Delaney. They bought in and once we got to play the games, we had a pretty good season.”

Pearson’s fondest memories of North will be from his second season. The 2021 Cavaliers were a cardiac bunch. They played three overtime games and won all three. They beat North Stanly 36-32 in a truly amazing game during which North receiver Amari McArthur broke the county record for receiving yards in a game.

“North Stanly was one of those crazy games, you’re just trying to figure out some way to win, and the last thing you’re thinking about is stats,” Pearson said. “I was amazed when we saw Amari’s numbers (273 receiving yards) after that game. Then there was the game at Thomas Jefferson in the second round of the playoffs. Winning a second-round road playoff game in overtime. That’s always going to be a great memory. We were blessed with some really special offensive players during my time at North in Amari, (quarterback) Jeremiah Alford and (running back) Jaemias Morrow.”

The most memorable loss? That was 50-47 at Robbinsville in the third round of the state playoffs.

“One more stop in that game, and it’s not just a good season for us, it’s a great one,” Pearson said.

Pearson shared coach of the year honors with Hinson for that 2021 season.

Last fall, the Cavaliers lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Mount Airy team that won the state title.

As things turned out, that game was Pearson’s final one with the green and gold.

Beyond what happened on the field, Pearson and his wife Majoria, who have two young children, have been praised by many as good role models and active community members.

“North Rowan was my first head coaching experience, and it was a really positive one,” Pearson said. “I was proud to coach North Rowan. I’m grateful that Meredith Williams and Mark Woody gave me that chance. I was a college coach who hadn’t been a high school head coach.”

Williams was the principal and Woody was the AD when Pearson was hired.

Pearson had the distinction of being North’s first Black head football coach, and the first in Rowan County since 1997.

North has been a very stout football school — 425-294-10 all-time.

Pearson added to a winning tradition that got its biggest boosts from the successful tenures of Larry Thomason (125-69-3 in 19 seasons) and Roger Secreast (108-59 in 14 seasons).

Under the leadership of Joe Nixon, Hampton and Pearson, North is 93-41 over the last 11 seasons.

“The goal always is to leave a place better than you found it,” Pearson said. “With the help of my wife and staff, we accomplished that.”