Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include the results of West Charlotte’s matchup with Crest High in Shelby.
West Charlotte High School has a chance of making the state football championships this year, and head coach Sam Greiner said he plans to prove the doubters wrong.
Friday, the team will travel to face top-ranked Crest High School(12-0) in Shelby, a victory Greiner said will provide his team a chance to “put people on notice.”
“We’re here to win a state championship, and we have to go through some of the best teams in the state to do that,” the 41-year-old Charlotte native told QCity Metro. “No one is really picking us to win this game, and so we need to go in here and put our best foot forward.”
(Update: After trailing by 16 points after three quarters, Crest rallied to defeat West Charlotte 30-29 in overtime.)
Winning on and off the field
Greiner came to West Charlotte in 2020 after leading Harding University High School to a state championship in 2017 and a one-year stint coaching at Hickory Ridge in 2019. He said West Charlotte’s tradition of excellence enticed him to take the job.
As a student-athlete at Butler High School in the late 1990s, Griener said, he witnessed the dominance of West Charlotte’s football program.
The traditions of West Charlotte are amazing,” he said. “I’m ready to bring [back] football like it was in the ’80s and ’90s.”
To do so, Greiner is establishing a winning culture, with the team’s motto being “man the throne,” a motto that pushes players to be responsible and live up to their leadership potential.
That accountability, he said, carries on and off the field, including the classroom.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has a 2.0 grade point average for student-athletes, but Greiner encourages his players to strive for a 3.0 or better.“
A 2.0 won’t get you into college,” “If you have over 3.0, you open up so many more deal wars for you to be able to go to college.
Building through adversity
Greiner has battled adversity since his arrival at the West End school.
His first season was shortened due to Covid-19, and the team finished with a 2-5 record. West Charlotte forfeited all of its games in the 2021 season due to having an ineligible player. Greiner was placed on a 3-week paid suspension while Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools investigated the eligibility concerns, causing him to miss 2022’s off-season training period.
He was reinstated ahead of the 2022 season and coached the team to a 7-6 record. West Charlotte made the playoffs that year but lost a close game, 22-19, in the third round to Kings Mountain.
Off the field, Greiner has also faced criticism. Some people, he said, have called for his job, criticizing his race and appearance.
Greiner is a white man who styles his hair in locs, a hairstyle commonly found in the Black community. Some critics believe have said that West Charlotte, a predominantly Black school, should have a Black head coach.
But Greiner doesn’t focus on those opinions. He said he only cares about the love of his players.“My players don’t call me their white football coach,” he said. “They just call me their football coach.”
A chance at a ‘chip’
Greiner said this offseason has been all about preparing to compete at the highest level.
He has a complete staff comprised of state championship-winning coaches.
This season was also the first time the team has played in a home stadium in five years after the completion of this new stadium, Greiner said.
Off-season preparation has also focused on letting the players lead the charge.
The freshmen he started with are now seniors, and Greiner said he relies on their leadership, most notably defensive lineman Chris Bullard, offensive lineman J’sean Wilson, and outside linebacker Jaden Smith.
“To be a great team is when the players understand what your expectations are, and they hold everybody else to that standard,” he said.
At 9-3, Greiner has led West Charlotte to its best record since 2010, when the team went 8-5. A victory on Friday would secure West Charlotte’s first 10-win season in more than a decade. Shelby Crest is currently ranked the ninth-best football team in the state, according to Max Prep.
A West Charlotte win would be considered an upset by sports critics.“To be noticed and not forgotten, you got to do things people expect you not to do,” he said.
Win or lose, Greiner said he plans to continue to build on the team’s success so far.
“If I’m coaching high school football in North Carolina, I plan on retiring at West Charlotte. I don’t plan on going anywhere else,” he said.