The Golden Age of Apex Football
The Golden Age of Apex Football
High school football carries unique characteristics rarely seen in any other sports or at higher levels of competition. The product of in-and-out of school relationships between students, players, and coaches is tight-knit bonds and a sense of fan responsibility so great, students, parents, and town members will faithfully show out every week under the Friday Night Lights. As students, we braggadociously celebrate victories and harshly defend defeats. If there is one thing that all Apex students parents and fans share, it’s the feeling of anticipation and glee from a rousing pep cheer for a Cougar offense in the red zone.
Loyalty and pride may waver in times of weakness for the Cougar team, but between 1998 and 2008, they were at an all-time high. This was the Golden Age of Apex High School Football.
In 1994, Coach Bob Wolfe was promoted from Assistant to Head Coach of the varsity team. Four short years later, the team was transformed from a 2-8 3-A team with no business playing with the 4-A big boys, to an 8-3 powerhouse with the biggest winning season since 81’.
The 98’-99’ team was led by Joey Bradley, a running back powerhouse who averaged 8.5 yards per carry. The offense averaged a whopping 24 PPG while the sturdy defense only allowed an average of 13.7 PPG. Despite this, the team came up short finishing second in the conference.
The next year, they continued rampaging through the competition, even shutting out the favored Leesville team in 14-0 victory.
“Through sunshine, rain, sleet, and snow, the football team will always go.” – Coach Bob Wolfe (2001). There were never truer words as the 2001 season went on to become one of the best in Cougar history. They finished the season with a 9-3 record and won their conference for the first time since moving up to the 4-A division. It was a season of firsts for the veteran team as they secured the first Postseason win for Apex in twenty-six years, an impressive feat. Led by Senior Jared Brogden on the defense, the Apex team was a force to be reckoned with.
The following season was perhaps the most dramatic Coach Wolfe and his team had seen. The young Apex team came into the season as defending Conference champs, and consequently, with a target on their back. Perhaps hubris or lack of experience was to blame, but the Cougars took a proper beating in their first two games, and after their biting loss to Sanderson, Coach Wolfe knew it was time for a rallying cry. In a fateful Thursday practice before the game, Wolfe brought his team together and uttered six words, “We ain’t going down no more.” After that speech, the team went on a 5 game winning streak. Thanks to a phenomenal offensive line, and a defense that held opponents to just 7 PPG, the Apex team went on to win the Conference Championship for the second year in a row.
The ‘03 season that followed served as rebuilding year for a team whose brightest stars graduated. With time to recover and refocus on team unity, the Cougars came in to the ‘04 season with a fury. They went 10-3 with their harrowing comeback against archrival Green Hope being the climax of their season. By this point, the success of the organization as a whole was recognized. Coach Wolfe was honored as the Carolina Panthers Coach of the Year and selected by the NFL to attend special coaching workshops for the top fifty high school coaches in the country.
An Era in Decline
After the momentous year, the program was back to square one. A majority of their talent had graduated, and the team only had eight seniors with four years of football experience under their belt. They had a passable but clearly weakened team that finished with a 6-5-1 record. The Cougars still qualified for the playoffs but were handily dismantled by Southern in the first round. It was a season plagued by inexperience and injury. The fate of the team and the reputation of Coach Wolfe seemed to hang in the balance.
A New Hope
If there was anything the Cougar team needed going into the ‘06 season, it was fresh blood. The stagnated team struggled to find their mark, and many wondered if this would be the end to the Cougar’s eight-year streak of winning seasons.
Fortunately, their team was reinvigorated by the leadership of young talent. Sophomore Kevin Fogg led the team with his outstanding carries, and sophomore Houston Hawley showed promise as the team’s quarterback. The budding offense managed 22 PPG, and the defense led by senior safety Rashad Horton held opponents to 18 PPG. The promise their young offense possessed overshadowed the mediocre final record of 6-6, and injected hope into the lifeline of the Apex team.
If the ‘06 season was the lifesaving surgery, the ‘07 season was the recovery. The team switched from a Triple Option offense to a One Back Passing offense, to open up more running options for now junior Kevin Fogg. The change did not appear fruitful at first, with the team winning only one of its first five games. However, a second wind indicative of the season to come took place as Apex went on to win five out of the last six games of their season. The recovery was successful, and the scars were faded.
The Last Stand
“There’s no question in my mind that God put me here to do this, to work with all these great people.” – Coach Bob Wolfe
Like fine wine, the Cougar offense required time to ferment and grow. Now was their time to shine. The squad was led by now seniors, Kevin Fogg and Houston Hawley. The two stars had spent the previous two years fitting into their varsity skin, being groomed to carry the program to success.
They did not fail.
The senior-laden team led by Coach Wolfe and Coach Thomas made handiwork of West Johnson winning 33-8. Then, they squeezed out a dramatic 6-3 victory again Hoggard, thanks to a last minute fourth quarter touchdown by senior Joey Powell.
The team qualified for the playoffs and easily advanced to the third round, further than any team in Apex history. Hope and tension were the feelings echoed throughout the team, as they practiced doggedly through Thanksgiving break. They faced the daunting Wake Forest-Rolesville team. A victory meant a chance for states, failure was not an option.
Alas, the Wake Forest team proved to be an insurmountable obstacle, but the hard-fought Cougar loss had just begun. Coach Bob Wolfe, the man responsible for turning a twelve season losing team to a powerhouse was retiring. After eleven winning seasons in a row, two conference titles, and nine playoff appearances, Coach Wolfe hung up his hat, bid the team farewell and left on these words.
“It’s been a good run. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
This marked the end of an era. The Apex program would never be the same, and as players and coaches moved on to bigger things, all that remained was pride and loyalty. The spirit of Apex endures.