Football has played an important role in Billy McHenry’s life from the time when he was growing up in Georgia.
McHenry, 51, is now preparing for a new chapter in the sport after his appointment last week as Sierra Lutheran High School’s head football coach. McHenry comes into the new program with previous experience as head coach at Sparks High and then at his alma mater, Lakeside High near Atlanta. He has also served as an assistant coach at Incline from 1991-94 and at Carson since 2002, most recently as head coach of the Senators’ freshman team.
Sierra Lutheran, which competes in the NIAA Western Nevada 8-man football league, completed its first full football season in 2015 with a 3-6 record under coach Jacob Schumacher, who’s moving out of the area. McHenry announced he has put together a coaching staff that currently includes Delbert Bugg (former Douglas High offensive lineman), Matt Carter (former Coleville High standout), as well as Carson High products Matt Cooper and Dylan Rooker and kicking coach Dave Caylor.
McHenry, a 1987 graduate of Mercer University (Atlanta), will continue to teach business at Carson High School. This spring, he also served as coach of the Faith Christian Academy track and field program in Gardnerville.
Coming back as a varsity head coach — of an 8-man program, no less — does represent somewhat of a challenge, he admitted on Friday.
“I was nervous, until yesterday when I walked in and met the kids ... they’re a great, great group of kids,” McHenry said with a pump of his fist. “I am very excited and very honored that they selected me and very excited to have this opportunity.”
Voluntary workouts will be conducted in July, including an appearance at Douglas High’s Flying Tiger passing tournament on July 22.
Preseason conditioning will begin on Aug. 3, double-day sessions on Aug. 8 and the Falcons will participate in a league preseason jamboree at Virginia City on Aug. 20.
The Falcons are scheduled to kick off their regular season Sept. 3 at home against Tonopah.
Sierra Lutheran has good reason to look forward to the coming season, which is going to be its first on a new home field. The Falcons are also returning from an inaugural season in which they only had two seniors on the roster — and some momentum after finishing with back-to-back wins against Smith Valley and Coleville.
“That’s a pretty impressive result for their first full season of football,” McHenry said.
The Oct. 17 win at Smith Valley was a 40-36 thriller in which the Falcons mounted a last-minute goal line stand followed by a 79-yard catch-and-run by Jake Cummings on a pass from quarterback Ryan Salerno. Cummings and Salerno are both juniors.
“We’re not starting from scratch; Jacob Schumacher did a great job getting this program started,” McHenry said. “They played all of their games on the road last year. But we’re opening a brand new stadium for our opening game this year, so it still feels like we’re starting something new.”
Expect defense to figure prominently in Sierra Lutheran’s program. McHenry has served as defensive coordinator at Carson, and before that held the same position under head coach Larry Rumball at Incline. In McHenry’s final season, the Highlanders featured the No. 1 ranked defense in a strong Northern 2A league that included Truckee and Bishop Manogue. Incline had four shutouts, a 6-0 loss to Rite of Passage on an interception return and a 10-0 loss to Manogue.
Sierra Lutheran will run a Wing-T offensive scheme this season, the coach explained.
“We’re going to run pretty much the exact same offense Carson runs,” McHenry said. “In fact, Blair (Roman, Carson coach and Douglas High graduate) has been beyond supportive and helpful. I’ve got a great blueprint from that guy, and he’s been helpful, along with Steve Dilley and Shane Quilling, as far as helping work some things into 8-man football. You know, we’re sitting there with Xs and Os, and we go, ‘OK, we’ve got to get rid of three guys, right.’”
Whether 11-man or 8-man, the game is still football. Talent always helps, yet games are won with tackling, blocking and overall execution.
“How many of you guys have heard of Herschel Walker?” McHenry asked team members Monday during spring drills. The coach went on to point out Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, played 8-man football for tiny Johnson County High School in Georgia.
McHenry emphasizes there are other important lessons to be learned from football. He learned many of those lessons during his own playing career at Lakeview High School under Georgia prep coaching legend Wayman Creel (300-plus wins in 39 seasons from 1951-89 and national coach of the year in 1977).
“I was fortunate to have a great high school coach who believed you should be a quality person first, and that you should play and have fun,” McHenry said.