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Foster leaves legacy of love for Firebirds

Posted on June 19, 2021

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Brian Foster watches from the sideline as Southern Nash assistant coaches and players signal a touchdown in an April 3 game against Rocky Mount at Firebird Stadium. Of the eight assistant coaches on Foster’s staff, seven, including his oldest son Zack, were his former players. One of those, Brian Batchelor, will succeed Foster as head coach following his retirement the first week of June.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Brian Foster watches from the sideline as Southern Nash assistant coaches and players signal a touchdown in an April 3 game against Rocky Mount at Firebird Stadium. Of the eight assistant coaches on Foster’s staff, seven, including his oldest son Zack, were his former players. One of those, Brian Batchelor, will succeed Foster as head coach following his retirement the first week of June.

Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster walks off the field at Firebird Stadium following a timeout during an April 3 game against Rocky Mount. Foster announced his retirement June 7 after 31 years at Southern Nash, the last 23 as head coach.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster walks off the field at Firebird Stadium following a timeout during an April 3 game against Rocky Mount. Foster announced his retirement June 7 after 31 years at Southern Nash, the last 23 as head coach.

Brian Foster watches from the sideline as Southern Nash assistant coaches and players signal a touchdown in an April 3 game against Rocky Mount at Firebird Stadium. Of the eight assistant coaches on Foster’s staff, seven, including his oldest son Zack, were his former players. One of those, Brian Batchelor, will succeed Foster as head coach following his retirement the first week of June.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Brian Foster watches from the sideline as Southern Nash assistant coaches and players signal a touchdown in an April 3 game against Rocky Mount at Firebird Stadium. Of the eight assistant coaches on Foster’s staff, seven, including his oldest son Zack, were his former players. One of those, Brian Batchelor, will succeed Foster as head coach following his retirement the first week of June.

Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster walks off the field at Firebird Stadium following a timeout during an April 3 game against Rocky Mount. Foster announced his retirement June 7 after 31 years at Southern Nash, the last 23 as head coach.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster walks off the field at Firebird Stadium following a timeout during an April 3 game against Rocky Mount. Foster announced his retirement June 7 after 31 years at Southern Nash, the last 23 as head coach.

Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster walks off the field at Firebird Stadium following a timeout during an April 3 game against Rocky Mount. Foster announced his retirement June 7 after 31 years at Southern Nash, the last 23 as head coach.
Brian Foster watches from the sideline as Southern Nash assistant coaches and players signal a touchdown in an April 3 game against Rocky Mount at Firebird Stadium. Of the eight assistant coaches on Foster’s staff, seven, including his oldest son Zack, were his former players. One of those, Brian Batchelor, will succeed Foster as head coach following his retirement the first week of June.

paul@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7808

Paul Durham

Paul Durham

For Brian Foster, as a football coach and teacher, it always came down to doing the right thing. And that always meant doing right by the student-athletes under his guidance.

Now — after 31 years as a football coach at Southern Nash, the last 23 as head coach, and with aging parents a half-day’s drive away — Foster decided it was time to do right by his family and himself. His retirement and the hiring of longtime assistant coach Brian Batchelor as his successor was announced June 7 via a press release from Nash County Public Schools.

Foster’s wife, Kim, who also taught at Southern Nash, began her own retirement a few weeks ago.

“She sacrificed a whole lot in 31 years for me, so I want to be able to spend time with her and do the things that we want to do,” Foster said.

Their oldest son, Zack, just graduated from N.C. Wesleyan College and hopes to start teaching at Southern Nash in the fall, while youngest son, Matt, a former Firebirds quarterback like his brother, just finished his first year at Wingate University.

Time to fire up the RV, hit the golf course and spend time with family and leave football behind, right?

Well, not exactly. You don’t spend a lifetime pouring yourself into what becomes more of a calling than a career, living and dying with the kids you’re helping to shape into young men while surrounding yourself with some of those former players as your staff that becomes a family that ultimately includes the whole school and then the community— and then just walk away from it.

In a telephone interview from his parents’ house in Forest City, Foster admitted Friday morning that he’s spent a lot of time recently thinking about the start of the summer football program at Southern Nash, still in the hands of his staff members — nearly all former players of his.

“I don’t really know, but I still think I’ve done the right thing,” he said. “Maybe I will coach again one day. I really did not expect to think about it this much!”

Foster spoke to the team and let members know what everyone had been expecting to hear since he led Southern Nash to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A championship game in 2019.

After the Firebirds came up short against Charlotte Catholic, Foster seemed poised to go out the door with his son Matt, who had also played his final game as Firebirds quarterback. But less than two months later, the COVID-19 pandemic changed those plans, along with millions of others.

Instead, Foster decided to return for the 2020 season that eventually became the spring 2021 season and likely the toughest of his career, given the lower participation numbers and COVID protocols and all-around weirdness of a season played out of season.

LEAVING HOME NOT EASY

Leaving Southern Nash — his only job after graduating from Lenoir-Rhyne University — proved to be much more difficult than Foster imagined.

“When I was trying to tell them I wasn’t going to be their coach anymore, I thought I’d be fine. But when I got up there, I was not fine!” he said. “Which surprised me again, but I haven’t just been at Southern Nash. We lived life at Southern Nash. You look at all the stuff that’s happened in my life and Kim’s life and the time we’ve been there. It really is a home.”

Foster started coaching at Southern Nash when Algie Faircloth was head coach in the summer of 1990, even staying at Faircloth’s place until he got situated. But Faircloth died unexpectedly the first week of the season that saw Southern Nash go 13-1 and reach the 3-A semifinals. In the end zone of Firebird Stadium, there’s a monument to Faircloth with the inscription: “A builder of men.”

NOT JUST A SLOGAN

It’s something Foster has always made the No. 1 priority at Southern Nash. Like a lot of football coaches, Foster uses sayings and slogans to motivate his players. When the Firebirds first adopted the motto, “All In” a few years ago, they were hardly the only team to do so. But it’s not just something to print on the front of a T-shirt or on a sign in front of the school. It’s a way of life at Southern Nash that has extended far beyond the football field.

“It’s one thing to have it on the shirts or to say it, but it is another thing to live it,” Foster said.

There are T-shirts with “All In” on the front, but on the back, Foster added something that was left on the grave of his younger brother Jarrett, who died in a Jet Ski accident in 2006. Jarrett Foster was an assistant track coach at Clemson University. The sentiment was left by one of his track athletes.

“Be prepared, be thankful, love one another,” Brian Foster said. “Every ‘All-In’ shirt we’ve had, had that on it: ‘Everything in life is about timing, so be prepared. Every day, life is good, so be thankful. The impact you make on someone might far exceed the time you spend on Earth, so love one another.’ And I think it’s been one of the things that I think our kids understand just how important that is to me and it became important to them.”

Foster, who coached girls track for 11  years at Southern Nash and had seven individual or relay state champions, credits his brother’s input for the Ladybirds’ success.

“What he did to help us was crazy and the success we had with track,” he said. “If you look at how we were so good in track, I mean, we used to win events by the time field events were over. That’s what he helped so much, from just talking to him so much on the phone. … He had a huge part of what we did with the track program. I was looking back at some of the things we did in girls track that’s crazy.”

‘DON’T GIVE UP’

Brian Foster’s adult life has been shaped by tragedy. His older brother, Travis, died in 2014, leaving him as the only one. Then, during the 2016 season, Kim and Zack were in a horrific wreck on Interstate 40 in New Hanover County while Brian and Matt were waiting for them to arrive for a beach weekend.

Neither were able to walk for months. The community rallied around the family, with signs emblazoned with “#FosterStrong” peppering Firebird Stadium.

By then, Foster knew that Southern Nash was always going to be his home, despite having doubts earlier in his career. He didn’t have a winning season until his seventh as a head coach.

“I was looking at the little goals I had when I first took the job, and the very last one was ‘Don’t give up,’” Foster said. “And there was plenty of times that I was close to giving up when I look back at that.”

But after Jarrett’s death, Foster said he looked inward and realized that, despite his misgivings, Southern Nash was the place where he was meant to be.

Since then, Southern Nash has become a state power in football, but more importantly, Foster has made an impact in hundreds of lives in countless ways.

“He was more meant to do what he did in life than anybody else I’ve ever met,” Batchelor said.

Foster said he learned a lot over the years, but one of the best lessons was to just stay true to yourself in terms of coaching philosophy.

“I think for any head coach that’s starting up, that’s something that you need to do,” he said. “You need to find what you believe in and somehow, even if it’s running different formations doing it or whatever, do that. And believe in it. And get your kids to believe in it.”

Foster’s legacy at Southern Nash, where he was a football coach for more than half the school’s history, will extend far past his 153-117 record. Or the 114-36 mark his teams have put together since 2009, when the Firebirds started their postseason streak with a run to the NCHSAA 3-A semifinals. Or the five straight 3-A Big East Conference championships. Or the dozens of players who have gone on to play college football.

But for every Julius Peppers or Alan Avent or Kwamaine Battle or Zonovan Knight or Quinton Cooley, there have been dozens more players who never played football a day after leaving Southern Nash, but the experience helped shape their lives in a positive manner.

For Foster, there was never a compromise when it came to his kids. He was always All In for all of them.

“I tell our guys all the time that if they don’t love me, they don’t need to play for me, and the feeling should be mutual for me. And I believe that,” he said. “I just don’t think you ever will get the best out of your kids if they don’t love you. One thing I’ll tell them is that it’s a whole lot easier to tear something down than it is to build it back up.”

Paul Durham is sports editor of The Wilson Times, a sister newspaper of The Enterprise. Reach him at 252-265-7808 and paul@wilsontimes.com.

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