Kirron Ward Leads Bearcat Football - TribPapers
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Kirron Ward Leads Bearcat Football

Hendersonville – Lifelong Bearcat Kirron Ward is Hendersonville’s Bearcat new varsity head football coach. After 14 years as an HHS assistant, Kirron succeeds Jim Sosebee who exited last month to coach at 4A power Crest.

His elder brother by a decade, veteran HHS boys’ basketball coach Marvin Featherstone, is “beyond proud of my little brother. He’s been there, and waited his time. I’m one of his biggest fans.” Featherstone is a longtime football assistant coach, too. He said he will stay in the background, as “this is Kirron’s show.”

Ward initially called his promotion “surreal and a blessing.” He told the Tribune, “I’m excited to be at the helm, to be leading the charge of the program I’ve been part of for years.”

Ward assured Bearcat Nation that HHS will keep using Sosebee’s explosive spread offense. “We’ll continue to be wide open, and spread it out. There’s no need to change what’s successful.” Ward said, “I worked closely with Sosebee in this offense. I learned what to look for, and how to attack defenses.”

Therefore, expect continued HHS success. The Bearcats won two playoff games in each of the past two seasons, with WNC passing leader Gavin Gosnell as quarterback. He moves on to play this fall for the University of South Florida.

New Coach, New QB

The next great Bearcat quarterback is ready to flourish. Elyja Gibbs, the rifle-armed baseball catcher, is a 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore. “Elyja’s a big-time athlete,” Ward said. “He started for us on defense. He’s not afraid of pressure.”

Ward, a 2002 HHS grad, teaches career and technical education (CTE). He graduated from Brevard College (BC) in 2006, and began coaching two years later. He was a varsity football assistant over receivers for the last six years of B.J. Laughter’s reign (1997- 2013), under Eric Gash for two years then with Sosebee for the last six seasons.

Experience in Hoops

Ward, who turns 38 on June 19, is married with three young sons.

He has head coaching experience. He led Lady Bearcat basketball for the past five seasons. Not only that, but he said he will give that up to totally dedicate himself to football.

Ward was a bruising, rebounding post player at HHS then BC. “I love contact. I applied a football mentality. I tried to impose my will physically.” In turn, “I took my quickness to football.” Ward is 6-3. He weighed 230 as an HHS sophomore in football. He shed 25 pounds running in basketball.

Ward starred as a two-way Bearcat lineman, and at the tight end position. He revved up teammates. “I don’t like losing. When things didn’t go right, I’d voice my opinion and concerns.”

He will encourage “vocal” assistant coaches, still “holding players accountable.” He wants receivers to be fast, “elusive,” and “physical to use leverage” to win battles for the ball.

Continuity, Praise

The coach selection committee consisted of Sosebee, HHS Principal Bobby Wilkins, and both assistant principals — Athletic Director Laura Bruegger and Chris Wilson. They consulted Laughter.

Bearcat football players leapt and shouted with joy once Bruegger told them earlier this month Ward got the job. Ward then assured his players that the “objectives are the same” – win the 2A state championship. HHS last won it all in 1968 and 1969.

Gosnell heralded Ward for helping instill a strong “work ethic,” for “knowing our offense,” and reminding players right before the game “it’s time to get down to business.”

Sosebee calls Ward a “player’s coach. He gets along with the players so well. He’s so improved in learning the whole offense. He fully deserves this opportunity.”

Sosebee noted, “I wasn’t looking to go anywhere. Hendersonville is one of the top jobs in western North Carolina. But Crest is one of the top in the entire state,” and contacted him.

Wilkins observed Ward often telling HHS receivers “good job” or correcting them.

Laughter, a 1987 HHS grad, calls Ward “the ultimate team player for me. Kirron was a standout lineman. He was very loyal and coachable. He was a huge reason we were successful.” He called Ward a “vocal leader” who prepared. “You were not going to outwork him! He’s very competitive. But he didn’t lose composure in defeat.”

Ward epitomizes “Bearcat Character,” Laughter said. That is “doing what is right, when no one is looking.” Wilkins said it is also about “giving it everything you got.”

Jim Sosebee peps up Bearcat players. At right is his successor as HHS head coach, Kirron Ward. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Jim Sosebee peps up Bearcat players. At right is his successor as HHS head coach, Kirron Ward. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Lessons Learned

Ward said he learned from his three predecessors as their assistant, and wants to emulate them. All handled pressure well, yet were “intense” at critical game moments.

He admires how Laughter “held it all together” in 1998, his second season as head coach. Ward was a freshman. He considers Laughter (pronounced law’ter) a role model as a task-oriented young head coach who apprenticed as a longtime assistant. “He’s definitely responsible for me knowing the game, and playing it well,” Ward added.

Gash, a Bearcat who played for UNC, was also “very intense. I soaked in his wealth of knowledge. We put game plans together.”

Sosebee watched game films for days and days, Ward said. “He knows defenses as well as he knows offenses. That’s how he exploits defenses.”

Joining Big Boys

Another role model coach for Ward is his brother. Featherstone reached the 2A state title game two seasons ago. Varsity HHS girls coached by Ward played just before varsity boys did, in the regular season. Featherstone thus regularly watched Ward coach hoops. He said, “There are times when he’s calm, and times when you see his passion and fire.”

They recall an amusing omen that Kirron Ward would be a lifelong Bearcat. When Kirron was age four, Marvin starred as point guard on the 1986-1987 team that Wilkins coached. Once, as players raced up and down, young Kirron burst across the court.

“Knowing my brother was playing, I was running out there to get to him,” Ward explained.

Featherstone recalled, “He wanted to play with me.” Since HHS went on to win the state title, “he was our good luck charm.”

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