New Mathews High School head football coach Ryan Wenner is excited about the talented crop of athletes on his team this year and is looking forward to building a successful program here.
Wenner, 25, has just come off a successful stint as the junior varsity football coach at Gloucester High School. During his three-year tenure as coach, the jayvee Dukes posted an 18-9 record, recording three consecutive winning seasons.
A 2006 graduate of Gloucester High School, Wenner went to Christopher Newport University to play football, but an injury sidelined him. CNU head coach Matt Kelchner, sensing the young man’s interest in the coaching side of the sport, asked if he wanted to help out. That first year, Wenner served as a cameraman, filming the team’s games. After that, he served as a student coach, working with the linebackers and defense.
"It was real nice to see a new standard of excellence" with Kelchner and the rest of the CNU coaching staff.
From CNU, Wenner went on to earn a degree in history from Regent University, graduating in 2010. While still finishing up his degree, Wenner received a call from then-GHS assistant coach Ken Hardcastle asking if Wenner was interested in helping out with the jayvee team.
Wenner served as a volunteer for one year before Hardcastle recommended him for the head jayvee coaching position. Coach Sonny Merchant agreed, and wasn’t bothered about Wenner’s age (which was 21 at the time), saying that was when he, Merchant, got his start in coaching.
Heading up the jayvee program at GHS required "a lot of learning on the go," Wenner said, as the defensive-minded coach found himself working more and more with designing the Dukes’ offense. His competitive spirit also rubbed off on his players. After a 0-3 start, the jayvee squad went on to win its next three games in that first year.
The following season, with a number of returning players familiar with Wenner and his system, the GHS team posted a 7-2 record. In his third and final year as the jayvee coach, Wenner had a crop of young players and also lost several due to injury. However, they were still able to go 5-4, including a win over Phoebus.
When Wenner received the MHS coaching position, one of the first calls he made was to Hardcastle, who has agreed to serve as the Devils’ defensive coordinator. "He was good enough to come on over," Wenner said. "I’m really excited he’s come on board." Hardcastle, a longtime teacher and coaching assistant at GHS, took over the varsity program when Merchant resigned midway through the last season.