Year by year, athletes and families in the Dutch Fork area are buying into coach Tom Knotts’ way of doing things.
Knotts came to town in the spring of 2010 with a long resume of building winning teams and with plans to add the Silver Foxes to the list of his championship squads.
Knotts was 296-60 at three Charlotte high schools, getting Harding, West Charlotte and Independence programs to 11 North Carolina Class 4A title games and winning eight championships.
Dutch Fork is one game from delivering on Knotts’ promise, as the Silver Foxes face Gaffney on Saturday in the Class 4A Division 2 title game.
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“When I got here, we set very definite goals and the goal was to not just to reach a state championship, but to win,” Knotts said.
In his first two seasons, Knotts’ Silver Foxes were stopped in the second round, and they have a combined 31-9 record over three seasons under Knotts. Getting to the program’s first championship appearance, in its 20th year, was an accomplishment that, from the outset, the coach figured would take a few seasons.
“I think every coach wants to give himself a little time and not put too much pressure on himself. But what I found when I got there was a very talented team,” Knotts said.
“We just got busy on instilling a little more discipline, a little better work ethic, specifically in our weight room and speed training. It was culture shock for a few of them,” he said.
“Strength and conditioning is my arena,” said Dutch Fork strength coach Noah Dixon. “When coach Knotts arrived, he made it clear that it was his baby, and its my baby, too. I feel like he has a great formula for building athletes and programs and winning.”
Dixon said with Knotts’ emphasis on strength training, more young athletes have been able to contribute to the team sooner.
Soon after Knotts was hired, he authorized Dixon to move his work with middle school football players from a one-week summer camp to afterschool spring weight training.
“By the time some of those kids come to me as ninth graders, I had several of them lifting 300 pounds,” Dixon said.
This season, both the Dutch Fork junior varsity and C-teams went undefeated, which Dixon attributes in part to the team’s renewed commitment to work in the weight room.
“We don’t let anything slip by. Coach Knotts told me to hold the kids accountable and I do. I do, because when a guy doesn’t do a rep that he could have done, what if the opponent did all of his reps? So we push them,” said Dixon, who is looking forward to getting the Silver Foxes back in the weight room after the season ends on Saturday.
Along with Knotts’ increased demands came increased confidence, said junior quarterback Derek Olenchuk.
“He just is a great offensive mind and we know that he knows how to win games and we’ve just gotten more confident the harder we work,” Olenchuk said.
“I know I’m not the easiest guy to play for. I have a lot of demands and I can be hard,” Knotts said. “But I think my success speaks for itself, and eventually, the wins tend to make people more agreeable to buying into what you’re doing,” he said.
The Silver Foxes have bought in, and they hope to profit from it for years to come.
“We don’t have near the tradition that this proud Gaffney program has, but we’re trying to build our own tradition, and I think the players are proud of the foundation they’re laying for future Dutch Fork players and future Dutch Fork teams,” Knotts said.
“Our goals have been to play with the Gaffneys and the Byrneses of the world. We got a good draw and here we are.”