WAXHAW – Trey Kavanaugh has always just wanted a chance.
After growing up in Atlanta, his parents got divorced and he moved to Boone to stay with his grandparents.
There, he had a “decent” high school football career that he parlayed into a four-year career at Appalachian State.
Straight out of college he got an assistant job at East Carolina, but when Ruffin McNeill was fired, Kavanaugh was out of work.
He took a corporate sports job, but knew his heart wasn’t in it.
Kavanaugh soon sent out resume letters to most area high schools, but only one replied. Despite not having a full-time job – he was substitute teaching wherever he could within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools – Kavanaugh jumped at the chance to be a receiver coach at Ardrey Kell.
“I wasn’t even getting a stipend that first year, but I sacrificed that job where I was making pretty decent money to do what I loved,” he said. “And it turned out to be a great thing.”
Kavanaugh called the JV’s offense his first season in 2016. The next year, he got a job at Ardrey Kell and began calling the varsity’s offense. Last season, he called some plays and coached the JV team.
So, at 26 years old, the Cuthbertson job is his first, but it seems like the perfect fit for him.
“It’s not a lot different here than it was when I first started at Ardrey Kell,” he said. “ I think that’s helped me in this process and why I was hired because of the similarities we have. Two years ago we were in the dumps – and even last year we started 0-5 – but our kids battled through adversity and we won out and won our conference championship.
“Here at Cuthbertson, nobody was OK with the results, but it’s not a program in shambles. It’s not a broke-down village. Coach (David) Johnson did a great job, the kids all liked him and the transition has been smooth because of the job he did.”
As for those who think a coach less than 10 years older than his players would be too inexperienced, they don’t know his background.
When Kavanaugh moved in with his grandfather in Boone, he was living with Jerry Moore, Appalachian State’s long-time head coaching legend who won three national titles with the Mountaineers and orchestrated the famous win at Michigan.
“I would tricycle around the field house, be in meeting rooms and was always around the game,” he said. “I don’t know if there are any younger than me, but I think the coaching game is a youth movement right now … You look right up the road and Andy Capone was 26 or 27 when he took the Weddington job and he just won a state championship. You don’t want to get age confused with experience.
“My high school years weren’t like a regular kid. My Saturdays were spent in film rooms with coaches who have backgrounds most high-schoolers don’t have. My years on Earth have been a little different than most people.”
While Kavanaugh is full of energy, youth, knowledge and more experience than it would appear, there is still the issue of playing the Southern Carolinas Conference that includes state champion Weddington and Charlotte Catholic, among other powerhouses.
Last season, the Cavs went 3-8 and will graduate their top passer, top four receivers, three leading tacklers and top two running backs.
“That is going to be tough right now filling this team, but it’s also a blessing,” Kavanaugh said. “We’re establishing the youth movement and will have to have young guys step up. We play in the toughest conference in the state, we play with two state champions and you look at all of these things that make it seem like a challenge and negative, but it’s really opportunities. Everything that can be turned into negatives, we’re going to turn into positives …We’re going to try relentlessly hard to be positive in everything that we do.”
He knows winning may not come immediately, but it’s all about a process.
Kavanaugh said he hasn’t fully filled out his coaching staff yet but likes some of the current Cav assistants and anyone who is positive and can buy into what he’s trying to do.
Although he expects to improve upon last season immediately, one thing Kavanaugh is particularly excited about is the middle school program, which unlike CMS, is all in one location. Once they start filtering onto varsity is when Kavanaugh said the biggest differences will be felt.
“Once you see those middle-schoolers and JV kids start developing on the varsity is when you’ll really see my footprint,” he said. “You want instant results, but in three to five years we want to at least be in the discussion of winning conference championships
“Obviously you have Catholic who has been doing their thing since before I was born. In five years, we’re still going to be a young program – it’s only 10 years old right now – but we want to be going the right way and have that momentum showing.”