HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Ponder ponders future, accepts job as West Lincoln head coach

Published Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

A look at the coaching career of new West Lincoln High head football coach Darren Ponder, a graduate of Madison High and Mars Hill College whose previous head-coaching experience was one season at Madison:
Mitchell County, assistant coach
Madison, head coach
West Lincoln, assistant coach
Burns, assistant coach (DC)
West Lincoln, assistant coach (DC)
Newton-Conover, assistant coach (DC)
West Lincoln, assistant coach (DC)



LINCOLNTON – It’s hard to beat good timing, and new West Lincoln High head football coach Darren Ponder is excited about where things are for him.

Ponder — defensive coordinator for the Rebels last season — was named head coach on Wednesday after that was approved by the Lincoln County Board of Education.

He’ll now prepare to continue working in physical education and weight training with West Lincoln student-athletes, and his wife, Kerry, teaches Family and Consumer Science at the school.

The Ponders have three boys – one in the fifth grade, one in the sixth and one in the eighth – and that makes the job he’s accepted, he said, an even better fit.

“I have kids coming through for the next six years,” Ponder said in a Wednesday afternoon interview after finishing some weight training. “It’s good timing … I know most of the kids,” from coaching them in youth football or in the West Lincoln area.

Ponder replaces retiring head coach Tom Sain, who coached West Lincoln to a 50-56 record over nine seasons and to the postseason seven times. Sain retired on Feb. 1.

The Rebels were 9-3 last season, setting a school record for single-season wins, and go into next season’s Aug. 23 opener at Draughn having made the state playoffs in three straight years.

Before Sain took over, West Lincoln had two state playoff appearances (2005, 2006).

Ponder, 44, is in his third tenure on the West Lincoln football staff, having coached there previously under first Mark Latham and then Sain.

After being Sain’s defensive coordinator, he left for Burns and was defensive coordinator for Matt Beam. He returned to West Lincoln and was defensive coordinator for Sain then left and spent two years at Newton-Conover with Beam.

Beam resigned in May of 2018 to start a liquidation business in Lincoln County with his brother.

When that decision was announced at Newton-Conover, the Red Devils indicated Ponder would be their interim head coach before Ponder had a change of heart and instead left to return to West Lincoln.

The Rebels have been 4-8 and 9-3 in their two seasons in the South Fork 2A, finishing sixth two years ago and third last year behind Bandys and North Lincoln.

“We had a good year,” Ponder said “And I think we can be good for the next several years. We don’t know how good … but for the next five or six years we can field a really good squad.”

Ponder said winning nine games and contending for a title brought something to the table for West Lincoln, which began varsity football in 1962 and didn’t play a postseason game until 2005.

“I think it showed them with enough hard work they can be successful,” Ponder said. “We worked hard and we’ve got some good athletes.”

The key, Ponder said, is the same at West Lincoln as everywhere else.

“It’s a good league,” he said. “You’ve got to prepare year round … you’ve got to kill it in the weight room. I swear, I believe the difference is working year round on strength and conditioning.”

Ponder will be one of three new head football coaches in the South Fork 2A next season, joining Joe Glass at Lincolnton and Bob McKay at Lake Norman Charter.

Glass left Eastern Guilford after one season (10-3) to replace Ledford Gibson at Lincolnton while McKay coached the Knights to a 22-24 record from 2010 through 2013 and is back to replace Mark Steele.

Before coaching at Eastern Guilford, Glass won 30 games as head coach at Concord Robinson. A Freedom graduate, he also served on coaching staffs at Alexander Central, Hickory, East Burke and South Iredell during his career.

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