Cougar legend Danny Wilkins molds character for FCA


Danny Wilkins celebrates a decisive play, in a recent Asheville Cougar football game. The newly-retired coach now does FCA outreach.

Wilkins retired from coaching and teaching after 37 seasons, with the last 16 at Asheville. He now works full-time in Fellowship of Christian Athletes outreach. Thus, he still molds young athletes personally, and clarifies life priorities.

“We’re in a sports crazed culture. We’re fickle about wins and losses,” he told The Tribune. “Remember the true value of sports and competition is to learn values of honesty, hard work, perseverance and teamwork. That’s the biggest ‘win.’” For him, the main reward from teaching has been seeing maturity in the “kids you touched in the classroom. It’s about mentoring them into better citizens. I hope we made a difference.”

Wilkins now goes to Buncombe County schools and Mars Hill College, for FCA. He gets youth into FCA camps, as he has done for years. He leads “kids’ huddle groups,” and arranges pre-game meals for football teams. He took cold watermelons to players, at hot practices. He also leads Bible studies for coaches, to “serve them as they serve kids.”

He now comments for WWNC radio, during games. He is apt to see AHS versus arch-rivals Reynolds and Erwin.

Wilkins played for Enka. He coached in Georgia, for six years. He coached at outmanned Erwin, in 1988-92. He then was an AHS assistant under Lou Fogle.

“Danny’s been a steady force,” said his AHS successor David Burdette, who has been defensive coordinator. “He’s very organized. We play disciplined football.” Offensive Coordinator Charlie Metcalf credits Wilkins as a noble, spiritual leader and who espouses hard work. Rival coaches hail him as a consummate preparer, tactician and motivator, and ethical good sport.

Wilkins emphasizes feeling “passionate” about the sport, “film study and preparation,” and “understanding today’s culture and psychology of the sport. Kids vary in temperament. There’s a time and place that works best with each one. Some get defensive, if called out in public. Others are motivated by it.”

Wilkins averaged 10 wins a year at AHS. “We maintained consistency,” he said. He won more (162) games than any Cougar football coach as its sole leader in this millennium. His reign was the longest — more than Capp Isbill (‘51-62) and Bruce Peterson Sr. (‘66-7, ‘75-84). Cougar football began a century ago, in 1916 amidst WWI. Only Murphy’s David Gentry won more, among current WNC coaches.

Wilkins (162-44-1) won nearly eight in every 10 AHS games. He won 12 Mountain Athletic Conference titles outright or shared — 10 straight 3-A crowns in 2005-14, and usually also the overall 4-A/3-A MAC crown such as at 6-0 in ’14. The Cougars reached the state semifinals five times. They won two or more playoff games in 10 of Wilkins’ 16 seasons.

The zenith was in 2005. Unbeaten AHS (15-0) won its first official state football title since 1922 under B.S. Frei. Stars included the 1-2 backfield punch of quarterback Crezdon Butler and tailback Johnny White, and linebacker Rahkeem Morgan. White shined for UNC Tar Heels, then got a chance in the NFL.

Butler starred for Clemson Tigers, as a cornerback. The Detroit Lions reserve won a huge rivarly game at Green Bay in ‘15. He batted away star QB Aaron Rodgers’ pass to Davante Adams, foiling the a two-point try to tie in an 18-16 win.

In the fabled ’05 season, Butler threw a pass to Rahkeem Morgan for the 70-yard, winning score for the 3-A title — by 13-10 over Western Alamance. The trick “sleeper” play departed from usual grinding, power I running. Morgan jogged toward sidelines, as if leaving. He darted back in, lined up just before the snap, zoomed down the sideline and snared the pass.

Jeoffrey Pagan is a big success story. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound run stopper starred for AHS, then Alabama. Now 23, he is a Houston Texan defensive end.

Shane Laws’ Reynolds swatted ACR 54-21 a year ago. That was payback simmering after “we beat them three in a row,” Wilkins noted. “That did not go over well in Fairview. They were ready” in ’15, he said. “They were more talented, and steamrolled us early on. But we’ve sure had some good ones” in the series.

In ’11, ACR led 29-0 at the half at home. But the Cougars blanked the hosts 35-0 in the second half, to win. Then in ’12, they scored on an 80-yard TD pass from David Howerton to Danquiries Green on the final play to prevail 34-30.

Such sweet memories propel Wilkins to inspire others to never give up, give full effort, do what is right, and savor friendships and life’s purpose and goals as ultimate victories.

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