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New football coaches approved at SC, Riverside

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two Kanawha County high school football teams will be kicking off new eras this fall.

Donnie Mays was approved as football coach at South Charleston and Steven Freeman as coach at Riverside during a Wednesday meeting of the Kanawha County School board in Charleston.

Earlier this month, Mays and Freeman were recommended by their respective school administrations to take over for a pair of coaches who stepped down in November - John Messinger at South Charleston and Ralph Hensley at Riverside.

Mays and Freeman have some big shoes to fill, as the coaches they're replacing each won multiple state titles - Messinger a pair of AAA crowns at SC and Hensley four AA championships at East Bank.

"We definitely have some parts to work with,'' Mays said, "and Coach Mess did a great job. His record proves it - 62-21, two state titles, two conference championships.

"The fortunate thing for me is a lot of the staff said they would stay, and we were all part of that, too. A lot of things will stay the same, but trying to outdo Coach Mess is not my goal. I can only control what we do. I do like the challenge, and I look forward to it.''

The 33-year-old Mays said he hopes to retain the entire Black Eagles coaching staff from last year, minus Messinger, and add a few new faces.

"If something's not broken, you don't try to fix it,'' Mays said. "We'll do a lot of the same things. As far as the offseason conditioning program, it will continue. It's a little different now because [Messinger's] not going to be there. As far as the season goes, he won't be there to give his pregame talks to the kids. But everything else will be pretty much the same.''

Mays, a 1998 Herbert Hoover graduate, received his undergraduate degree from West Virginia State and his masters from West Virginia University.

He arrived at South Charleston when Messinger took over as head coach in 2006, serving as the program's offensive line coach for two seasons. The next five years, he was elevated to offensive coordinator and directed one of the state's most potent attacks. The Black Eagles won back-to-back Class AAA championships in 2008-09.

Meanwhile, the 26-year-old Freeman, a Cabell Midland and Marshall graduate, has been serving as an assistant coach at Huntington High for two years on the staff of Billy Seals. The Highlanders reached the AAA playoffs each of the past two seasons.

With the Highlanders, Freeman has served as wide receivers coach, passing game coordinator and, last year, also as special teams coach.

He said the Riverside position appealed to him from what he saw as an opponent of the Warriors in recent years.

"I've competed against Riverside in high school,'' Freeman said, "and I've coached against Riverside, and what stood out to me was how physical their kids always were. In this state, to be successful, you have to have physical kids. Look at the last four teams in the state [playoffs] this year - they were all really physical football teams, big and strong. That goes a long way in this state, and it's one of the things that attracted me to the program.''

Freeman also liked the community support of the Riverside area.

"It's really a football community,'' he said, "the tradition that East Bank and DuPont had. Obviously, they love their football. It's going to take a lot of work, but it's a very appealing place because of the community support and because it's a place that's been successful before.''

Freeman's hiring gives the program a fresh start in another way. Riverside's first two coaches represented one each from the successful pasts of its two predecessors - Dick Whitman (DuPont) and Hensley (East Bank).

Some sentiment existed among the communities to hire another coach from one or the other background, but some also preferred an outside influence this time.

"I come from a high school that was consolidated,'' Freeman said, "and as with any consolidation, it is a concern when you have two communities. There are 10 different communities that feed into the Riverside area, so that can be an issue.

"To me, I don't know if that's necessarily the issue. I'm not from the area; I don't know. All I know is about the history of East Bank and DuPont is the success of their football programs. I'm really excited to get the opportunity to be part of the community.''

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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