Black Mountain – New head coach Zach Gibson brings Pisgah Bear gritty success to Owen football, to further revive fierce willpower in the Swannanoa Valley.
Gibson, 29, a 2011 Enka grad, played offensive line and linebacker for Enka and Mars Hill. He graduated from UNC-Asheville in 2017. He coached at Enka in 2014-16, Asheville High in 2016-17, and the past four seasons at Pisgah. He ran a hybrid Wing T as a PHS offensive under Brett Chappell for three years. The fast-rising coach was also the OC for AHS under David Burdette. Gibson also credits the Wilkins coaching family from Enka for his development.
Gibson stated that in his multiple Wing T at Owen, he will deploy a variety of formations ranging from spread to I for dozens of looks while running five basic rushing plays.He prefers to run 75 to 80% of the time in order to gain yards and control the tempo.
Gibson is Owen’s third head coach in three years. He succeeds Brint Russell, a ‘97 Owen grad who coached his alma mater last fall. Russell moved after his wife reportedly got a job in Nashville, Tenn. Nathan Padgett, a ‘94 Owen grad, led Owen for the prior six seasons. He went 7-5 in 2019 with Caleb Scott at quarterback. He is now the athletic director for area powerhouse Reynolds.
Before that, it was all about Kenny Ford for 29 seasons. His Warhorses won five Western Highland Conference titles in a row in 2002-06. In Ford’s grand finale in 2014, Owen won a school-best 12 games and was a legit state title contender. Fast, huge TB Jager Gardner became WNC’s career rushing leader. Earlier were the two Big Brads—Super Bowl winning QB Brad Johnson (Class of ‘87 and UNC) and NBA basketball star center Brad Daugherty, who led Owen to the 1982 state finals. The legendary Roy Williams coached Owen for five seasons, starting in ’73.
Gibson realizes Owen athletic “tradition, the excellence, and a community that loves football on Friday nights as much as I do.” Gibson comes from “Pisgah toughness” to a tradition “just as strong here in ‘The Valley.’”
Owen won four football games last fall. The Warhorses thrashed Rosman 50-7, Madison 48-21, and beat Avery to finish 3-3 and fourth in the Western Highlands Conference. Beating Madison qualified Owen for the playoffs as the 2A rep in a split league dominated by 1A powers Mitchell and Heritage. Heritage is no longer 2A, again opening the door for the Owen-Madison victor. The Warhorses said they want to be a much higher seed this time, to avoid facing Shelby again or another elite team in the playoffs.
Owen A.D. Brook King runs the school’s ROTC program. He appreciates Gibson’ strict standards. Gibson shrewdly makes his mark in two phases—gentler and tougher. “I’m a big relationship guy. I want the players to know I care,” before leaning into them. He reasons that they tune in better. Furthermore, as at Pisgah, senior players set five team goals. “You get more ‘buy in’ to the goals they set.”
Coach Gibson”might smile, or get in your face,” quarterback Alex Sanchez said. Will Johnson distinguishes how “he’ll laugh in the office, but on the field (in practice) he gets on our asses.” Fellow RB Kameron Moore said the team lacked the usual “toughness” recently-but no more. Johnson relishes a “chip on our shoulders” to prove themselves.
Alex Sanchez (5-11, 165 sr.) is the sole QB, after sharing time with ‘22 grad Eli Lanter last fall. “Alex has all the athletic ability and intangibles you want” to run and pass, Gibson said. He calls Sanchez a vocal motivator. “Alex gets on teammates when needed. You might ruffle feathers. But players understand it’s to get better. They’ll listen to senior leadership.”
Two primary, hard-nosed rushers are Kameron Moore (5-9, 160 sr.) and Will Johnson (5-10, 170 jr.). Gibson noted how Pisgah’s small Ian Rogers ran for over 1,400 yards in ‘21. Owen RBs “can be finessed.” But we’d rather run over you.” Taj Burgin-Edgerton (6-1, 150 so.) and Jacob King (5-9, 140 sr.) are versatile WRs-RBs. Two to three receivers line up at a time. Tall possession targets Ryland King (6-1, 170) and Hudson Minks (6-1, 145) are joined by fellow juniors Ben Austin (5-10, 135 jr.) and TE Jakob Knighton (6-2, 150).
Much hinges on blocking. Cameron McClain (6-0, 300 sr.) is the big workhorse. Others are lighter but quick. They are seniors Daniel Rudeda (5-10, 210), Jason Dash (5-11, 205) and Lucian Thomas (6-1, 235) and junior Alex Greene (5-11, 240 jr.). “Our line is very mobile,” Gibson said. “I like full-backs like guards, getting out into space for mismatches against linebackers.”
The “Shade 50” defense often lines up in 4-3-4. LBs Logan Dash (5-11, 165 jr.), Johnson, and Moore are starters, as are DLs Jason Dash, McClain, Rueda, and Greene, and DBs Sanchez, Burgin-Edgerton, Austin, and Minks. “We’ll have a ‘bad’ (mean) attitude,” Gibson vowed.
The Warhorses will venture all the way to Mars — as in Mars Hill College, which Madison uses as a home field while its stadium gets repaired. The prohibitive WHC favorite is Mitchell, with superb QB Ty Turbyfill again, after unseating Heritage last fall. Owen traditionally plays Heritage too. Reloading MHHS might be vulnerable, but it is likely much better than many presume. Still, Owen figures this could be the year to beat such a conference heavyweight. Warhorse runner Moore cautions foes, “Don’t underestimate us!”