Published: 07:42 AM, Mon Sep 10, 2012
Mike Stanbridge returns to coach football for 39th year
Mike Stanbridge fires his first pass on this hot weekday afternoon, and fellow Cape Fear High School football assistant Joe Grates chimes in with a good-natured critique.
"He can still throw it at 82 years old," Grates yells across the field.
Stanbridge is actually 65, and the way footballs spiral away from his right hand, guessing a much younger age would be reasonable. Best known as a hall of fame wrestling coach, he is coaching football for the 39th year, with most of them coming in Cumberland County.
Stanbridge and Bryan Till were assistants on the same staff at Terry Sanford before Till became Cape Fear's head coach in 2011. Stanbridge took last season off and returned to football when he received an enticing offer from Till.
"He said he had an opening for an old man," Stanbridge recalls with a laugh, "so I thought I'd give it a shot."
Stanbridge works with Cape Fear's quarterbacks, and it's an important job with the Colts throwing much more often this season. He begins practice by warming up starter Spencer Faircloth, catching Faircloth's passes from a few yards away and throwing the ball back to the center.
Stanbridge backs up after each throw, and before long, he's about 35 or 40 yards away, instructing Faircloth how to properly execute a deep fade toward the right sideline.
"Put some air under it," Stanbridge says. "The free safety, you've got some room to work with because he'll be so far inside."
Stanbridge hauls in Faircloth's high-arching pass and rifles the ball back, releasing it with somewhat of a side-armed motion. The ball, unaffected by the large ring Stanbridge wears to commemorate Cape Fear's state wrestling championship in 1984, spins clockwise off his fingertips and reaches the target.
As the practice continues, Faircloth, Stanbridge and two other coaches, including Till, serve as the quarterbacks in a drill that helps receivers improve their route running. One of the team's biggest receivers runs a curl, shields the defender and catches a thread-the-needle offering from Stanbridge.
"That's right, Tank," Stanbridge says. "Way to make me look good."
Stanbridge continues to deliver accurate pass after accurate pass. Most are caught, and a few are dropped. Either way, he remains upbeat while acknowledging his arm isn't as strong as it used to be.
"I've thrown too many," Stanbridge says. "It's like a meter. You've only got so many throws in your arm, and I think I've reached that meter."
Staff writer Bret Strelow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3513.