Taking over a football program is never easy.
Taking over a football program days before the start the season is next to impossible.
That’s the situation assistant coach Timothy Ray found himself when Elvin James stepped down last summer as Goldsboro head coach due to medical reasons.
The newly-minted interim coach now had to sink or swim, and Ray decided to swim. He guided the Cougars to a 6-6 overall record, their first playoff win since 2012 and an upset of No. 2 South Granville in the NCHSAA 2-A state playoffs.
On Wednesday, Goldsboro athletic director Dwight Sutton confirmed that Goldsboro High School removed the interim tag and officially named Ray head coach of the Goldsboro Cougars.
“He came in at the last minute when coach James had to step down, and he took over the helm and was very successful,” Sutton said. “The fact that he made the playoffs and won a playoff game, there was nowhere else to look.
“We’re always going to look here at Goldsboro High School first to see before we make any decisions about head coaches because we want our coach to be involved with our students. Coach Ray fit like a glove, he came in, he took charge. He loves these kids, and he loves this place, and we just wanted to continue it. We wanted somebody all in, and he’s all in for the kids.”
Goldsboro opened the season with a 55-0 win against Hobbton and built up a 3-1 record, but a four-game losing streak in October nearly derailed the Cougars' season.
But Ray and a senior class led by Brody Morton and Xzavior Bowden righted the ship. The Cougars won their last two regular season games and earned a fifteenth seed in the playoffs.
“A lot has happened and a lot of adversity, but that’s what our team is built off of,” Ray said. “Thriving in tough situations and thriving in tough times, our kids are built for those situations, and as a coach, that’s something we practice a lot is overcoming adversity, and if I preach that to kids, that’s something I have to live by as well.
“The biggest thing is I’m always faithful with the kids and making sure I’m being a positive influence.”
In the first round of the playoffs, Goldsboro had to face the undefeated Vikings of South Granville. In a hard-fought and a well-played game, the Cougars took a 21-14 lead going into the fourth quarter and held on to win the game 21-20.
Sadly, the Cougars’ season came to an end the following week against conference rival Wallace-Rose Hill in the second round.
Ray’s most significant challenges heading into this season are replacing Morton and Bowden. For their careers, Morton threw for over 2,600 yards and 18 touchdowns, while Bowden rushed for 4,385 yards and 49 touchdowns.
Luckily, the Cougars remain loaded with talent. Jykeis Mclean and J.B. Rhodes are among 10 Cougars returning for their senior seasons. Mclean caught 32 passes for 677 yards and six touchdowns last season. Sitting behind Bowden on the depth chart, Rhodes averaged 7.2 yards per carry, rushed for 606 yards and eight touchdowns.
With the foundation set in place, Ray and his assistants are ready for the Cougars to make their third straight playoff appearance.
“Coach Ray is committed to excellence with our football program and as a teacher,” Goldsboro High School principal Christopher Horne said. “He is also committed to seeing our young men prepare themselves for school and life after school.
“He has shown that commitment to take our football program to the next level, and it was really a no-brainer to take the interim tag off him and let him grow this program to the place it needs to be.”