New Lexington High AD/Football Coach ready for new role, responsibility, and challenges
Perry Woolbright brings proven track record and a storied name to Wildcat job.
Lexington, SC (James Bowers) - In the context of South Carolina high school football, the surname “Woolbright” has a similar connotation to “Petty” in stock car racing or “Ripken” in baseball. Three generations of Woolbrights have mentored young people through athletics for decades in our state. Now, Perry Woolbright, the grandson of the patriarch of the clan is standing at the helm as the athletic director at Lexington High School.
Beginning with Coach Cecil Woolbright, who led several prep gridiron programs including the Midland’s Cardinal Newman and Chapin High School to historic successes and state titles from the 50s to the 80s, and continuing with his sons, and now his grandson, the name Woolbright makes those who know SC school league sports think football. One just needs to do a little research to find the facts that will back that up, spread across decades, a generational trail of successes and positive impact stories from hundreds of former players.
Of Cecil Woolbright’s sons, Marty had the most notable career with long, successful tenures at Lower Richland and Gilbert. Marty’s son Perry is now the third generation of the Woolbright dynasty, and at 35 years old, he will begin his third head coaching job at Lexington High School, where he will also handle the athletic director duties. This will be his first time in that role.
Perry, a former quarterback for his father on the Gilbert Indian squad, also played collegiately at Appalachian State in the early 2000s. He never saw himself doing anything other than teaching young people the game he loves. One family member believed he should have chosen a more profitable profession. “My grandad (Cecil) did try to talk me out of it,” he said. “We’ve had enough coaches in the family, you need to do something to make money for your family”. It should be noted that the family patriarch’s take on the situation was partly formed by the smaller-scale, lower budget nature of high school sports during his career. “My grandfather had one assistant coach for football when he first started out in the 60s, and coached three different sports in one year. Now you have 30 or 40 coaches for your fall sports alone," Woolbright stated, alluding to the tremendous growth among sports in general.
Fortunately, young Perry did not heed his grandfather’s advice. After stints as an assistant coach at several high schools, and North Carolina’s Chowan University, Perry Woolbright secured his first head coaching position at the prep level in 2010 at North Myrtle Beach High School.
The job got off to a rocky start for the then 28-year-old.With a 5-25 mark in his first three campaigns, it was an uphill fight. Then, in 2013, his final season as Chiefs'coach, he guided the squad to a 9-3 record. At that time, it was the most successful season in NMBHS history.
In 2014, Woolbright returned to Lexington County, taking charge of the storied Batesburg-Leesville program. The Panthers enjoyed a 27-12 run during Woolbright’s three-year tenure, did not miss the playoffs, and played for the South Carolina 2A state title in 2016, falling to the perennial powerhouse Abbeville Panthers.
When his predecessor with the LHS Wildcats, Josh Stepp, left for a job in the college ranks with Georgia State, Woolbright threw his hat into the ring for the LHS job. He interviewed, was hired, and is now at the largest school he has ever coached for. Still, Woolbright says his approach to the athletic director and head football coach positions will change little. “It’s all relative, it’s still coaching, you’ve just got more young men and young ladies that you can help mold and be great people and do great things once they graduate."
Woolbright’s coaching style borrows heavily from his father and grandfather, as well as his college coach, hall of famer Jerry Moore. Gaffney’s Phil Strickland, under whom he worked as offensive coordinator during the 2008 and 2009 seasons also left his mark. He says that he’s taken key pieces of their influence and molded his own philosophy. “The biggest thing I got from (his father and grandfather)was that they were both hard workers and there for the kids. The reason they were both coaches for 30+ years is how they were helping the kids. That has to be your daily motivation as a coach. We all want to win state, but if your kids are going on to be great members of society and do great things, you’ve really been a successful coach,” he said. Woolbright adds that one of the most important benefits of athletics is preparation for adversity. “In the real world, if you’re late to your job, it’s not like being late to conditioning where you’re only going to do some extra work, you’ll be fired. It’s important for kids to be involved in athletics because once they graduate, they can use the lessons to be successful husbands, wives, and business people, because they’ve already faced tough situations and learned how to overcome them. They’ve learned all the things they need to be successful.”
Lexington varsity football's 2017 schedule boasts tremendous challenges, including region games with defending state champion Dutch Fork, and what Woolbright calls an “athletic” Irmo team. The non-conference slate includes tilts with Brookland-Cayce and A.C. Flora, emerging teams from SCHSL’s 3A division.
While the Wildcat roster has seen some losses on both sides of the trenches from 2016, key skill guys such as senior QB Chase Crouch and RB Jordan Hiller return along with the bulk of their defense, including 3 of 4 secondary players. “The skill guys can do some things and will be our strength. We’ve got some good offensive linemen, they’ve just got to get some experience in the fire. They’re gonna be ready at the start of our region schedule," Woolbright noted.
As far as specific strategic elements, Woolbright plans to evaluate his talent and their experience and devise a plan for offensive and defensive systems from there. “You can’t just say 'I’m going do this year in and year out.' You have to adapt your system. You can have a base overall philosophy, but you’re got to adjust based on the personnel you have.”
Woolbright is averse to predictions, noting the multiple factors that can be beyond a team’s control, such as an early injury bug. While Woolbright loves his job (he calls high school athletics the “purest” form of sports), he says that the presence of schools that “recruit” (by using private school status to enroll students from any place of residence) could be ultimately harmful to high school sports. These schools use money from donors to build college-level facilities and purchase “flashy” uniforms. “These kids choose the flashy uniforms over taking pride in where their school is and where they grew up. Having pride in your hometown is very important to me,” he said.
Despite his reservations about materialism creeping into the sport, Woolbright says he would very likely agree to coach his team during a nationally televised game, noting the tremendous benefit the money would have for the athletic program. Woolbright himself points to the strong shape of all LHS sports teams, noting successful volleyball and soccer programs, and touts the high quality of prep sports in SC as a whole. “It always seems like we have a team or two ranked in the USA Today polls in most sports.”
While exact dates for the 2017 schedule have not been set in stone, spring practice begins in May and high school football teams will be involved in various activities throughout the summer. There are 7v7 passing leagues leading up to the start of fall practice in August.
With top notch facilities and a talented coach like Woolbright at the helm, there is reason for optimism among Wildcat supporters. Time will tell if his squad’s last game is played at Williams-Brice Stadium, but after meeting him and learning his philosophy, it is certain that his players will be favored to win in another competition,life.