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Three years ago, Jeremy Howard stepped away from his boys basketball duties at Beddingfield High, citing burnout from a three-sport head coaching schedule.
In that time, he has plunged into the often-thankless world of prep officiating and taken steps to restore more of a balance in his life off the fields of play. But recently, Beddingfield had an opening to address when Bruins head coach Joe Dvozenja resigned to accept a teaching and coaching position in Clovis, New Mexico.
His departure offered the opportunity for a hoops reboot to the 42-year-old Howard, who had spent eight years in the position before stepping away for the last three. At the expense of his traditional dress shirt and tie on the sidelines which will be replaced with a polo shirt, Howard, a 1995 Beddingfield graduate, will be back for his second stint with the Bruins during the 2019-20 season. The offer was extended by Beddingfield administrators and accepted earlier in the week.
“A big piece of it was when and how it was offered to me,” Howard said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It made me feel valued and it made me feel like, the way it was brought to me and offered to me, that I was really wanted. That’s a special feeling, and I’m not saying that I haven’t felt that in the last few years. But it was a good feeling to have it brought to me in that way.”
Howard, who plans to continue with leading the girls tennis and softball programs for at least the coming year, compiled a 121-74 overall record in his previous eight seasons and led the 2011-12 team to the 2-A Eastern Regional semifinals. His final three Beddingfield teams finished second in the Eastern Plains Conference behind Farmville Central, and a return to the Bruins bench coincides with the Jaguars coming off a 32-0 season and their second North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A title in the last four years.
The Bruins struggled down the stretch last year, losing their final five games en route to an 8-16 record. Five losses were by a single possession, including three in that closing span. Beddingfield’s roster fluctuated between nine and 10 players at times, necessitating tight rotations and allowing little recourse in the event of foul difficulty.
However, Howard could conceivably have three solid building blocks at his disposal in launching his comeback tour. Guards Mike Best and Lamont Speight are rising juniors, while rising senior Andrew Gattis is an option to stretch defenses with the 3-point shot — provided all remain on campus.
Both Best and Speight flashed playmaking ability as underclassmen in playing extended varsity minutes.
Howard has yet to meet any potential players, but has started conversations with assistant coaches around the program. Open gyms will be held after the conclusion of the NCHSAA’s second summer dead period July 15-21 at a site to be determined as Beddingfield’s gym undergoes renovation.
“There’s a lot of excitement there,” he said. “But in the same breath, it’s not my first rodeo. There’s a lot of work to be done — a LOT of work to be done. We want to put a good product out there on the floor, but also off the floor too. We want to make sure we handle ourselves well and represent the school as we should.”
Howard’s return to the floor also brings Wilson County’s three public high school head coaching positions back to the same state they occupied in 2008-09 with Hunt’s Dwight Taylor and Fike’s Brent Secrest. Taylor had retired for two seasons, but returned to the floor this past year.
“We had our (county) coaches luncheon, and Coach Taylor and Coach (Rodney) Creech over at Hunt, they came over and shook my hand,” Howard recalled. “They just jokingly said, ‘We’ll see you soon!’ “I told them, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ At the time, I can honestly say (returning to basketball) was not in the cards at all. It was not even remotely going in that direction. But we had kind of a change in leadership (Jonathan Tribula to principal) and they wanted to go this direction. And I’m very grateful for that.”
Another group that may well be thankful for a Howard basketball renaissance at Beddingfield is the officiating community. The time away from the sidelines in the winter allowed the East Carolina intramural product to call public and private school games, both at the middle school and varsity levels.
“I was able to see the other side of the coin,” Howard said. “I was wearing zebra stripes, and I was the one getting yelled at. ... I’m going to use my words a whole lot more wisely with officials, and that’s one of the first things I’m going to teach my kids. They may not get it initially, but we’re going to leave the officials alone. We’re going to let them do their jobs, and we’re going to get out and go after it.”