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'Relationship-oriented': Ryan Horton named Chapel Hill High School football head coach

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Ryan Horton, the new head football coach at Chapel Hill High School, stands on the football field on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.

Chapel Hill High School announced last week that Ryan Horton will be the new head coach of the CHHS football team following coach Issac Marsh’s retirement after 26 years.

Horton has already worked as a part of the team’s coaching staff for 12 years, nine of which he served as the team’s offensive coordinator. 

CHHS athletic director Lewis Newman was part of the search committee to find a new head coach. He said the committee interviewed many coaches, but that Horton stood out.

“Ryan has been a big part of our success here for a long time,” Newman said. “With that being said, he’s been on our coaching staff, he went to school here, he’s an alum and he’s in our Hall of Fame.”

Horton has been around football for most of his life. He played at CHHS, and then in college at UNC Pembroke as a quarterback — where he was the most valuable player in 2009 and set multiple passing records.

Newman said Horton has a unique way of bonding with the student-athletes. 

“I’m very relationship-oriented,” Horton said. “You got to form those bonds, form those relationships with students, same thing with athletes, so that you know and they know you’re genuine and want them to do well.”

CHHS senior quarterback Joshua Kelley said he had been coached by Horton since he was a freshman. Kelley said he watched Horton coach his older brothers, which made the transition to a large program less intimidating.

During Kelley’s first year, CHHS was playing against Orange High School for a playoff position. Kelley’s older brother, the quarterback at the time, completed a few long passes to put the team in field goal range to win the game — and, all the while, Horton kept his composure, Kelley said.

“Between him and my brother having a good relationship, between the whole offense, it was definitely something that was talked about years after,” Kelley said.

Kelley also said his relationship with Horton has turned into a friendship. He said they catch up about what happened over the weekend and the school week, and talk about future plans not related to football. 

“Leaving the program, I definitely have somebody to talk to,” Kelley said.

Kelley said Horton’s promotion will be a good change of pace to see a young energy force come in, especially one that is familiar to the team.

He also said while Horton is brutally honest, he gives younger players encouragement to stick with football for more than just a year.

Horton said he motivates his players and staff by assuring them that they all have the same goal — wanting to be successful on the field and win games. He also said he sets an example for the players on how to be well-rounded individuals.

When the team is in a rut, Horton said he falls back on those relationships and tries to teach the players to fall in love with the process and have a purpose. 

Horton is reestablishing the coaching staff for the upcoming season and is in the early stages of building his plan and getting ready to start spring football. Newman said the long-term goal for the team is to continue to succeed and advance in the playoffs.

“We want to continue that winning tradition,” Newman said. “We’ve got a strength and conditioning coach on the board now, and we are really expecting not only football, but all of our athletes to continue to excel and Ryan is a big part of that.”

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