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Football: Horizon Christian's Wiggins enters season as county's winningest coach
Charles Wiggins
Horizon Christian Academy football coach Charles Wiggins speaks during the 2016 Forsyth County Media Day. - photo by Micah Green

Charles Wiggins is changing.

The Horizon Christian Academy head football coach is going in to his fifth season with the Warriors, and 13th overall in the county, and just this summer he instituted a brand-new summer format for his team. It was simple math, as Wiggins saw it.

Wiggins’ roster hovers precariously between 18-20 players every season at the small, private Christian school off Sawnee Drive that competes in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association. Often as many as five players will have part-time jobs during the summer. Then there are the vacations and academic commitments that cut in to participation numbers at summer practices and workouts.

So Wiggins made all summer team activities voluntary until July 31, a policy that would be virtually unheard of among Georgia High School Association-member programs.

“You have to be able to adapt at small schools like this one,” Wiggins said. “If not, you’re not going to survive.”

Wiggins is a survivor, and he has survived long enough and successfully enough to last season become Forsyth County’s all-time winningest head football coach. His 61 wins – 45 at Pinecrest Academy, 16 and counting at Horizon – eclipsed former South Forsyth coach Norris Vaughn, who won 58 games with the War Eagles from 1996 to 2003.

In charge

A look at the winningest high school head football coaches in Forsyth County history.

Coach, Teams, Years, Record

Charles Wiggins, Pinecrest, Horizon, 2004-11, 2013-present, 61-72-1

Norris Vaughn, South Forsyth, 1996-2003, 58-31-1

Bob Herndon, Forsyth Central, 1994-2001, 55-31

Frank Hepler, West Forsyth, Forsyth Central, 2007-13, 2016-present, 54-26

Jeff Arnette, South Forsyth, 2010-present, 43-33

Wiggins earned the distinction Sept. 23, 2016, in Horizon’s 27-12 victory at Young Americans Christian in Conyers.

“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Wiggins said. “And for every win that I accounted for, I’ve had great players, great coaches who’ve stepped in and known what the situation is. They’re the ones who really made that happen. The Lord’s given me leadership and some type of keen sense of the responsibilities that I’ve had.”

Wiggins came to the milestone honestly. Both his coaching stints have been creation projects that felt the proverbial growing pains.

His first was his least likely, and didn’t even count.

After retiring from the U.S. Air Force Academy after eight years in the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, the military branch’s unit in the elite Joint Special Operations Command, Wiggins moved from Huntsville, Alabama to the Sharon Springs area in 1998. He worked at Alltel and kept his competitive spirits fulfilled playing softball when a co-worker asked him to help coach middle school football in the local youth organization.

Wiggins coached and was on organization’s Board. The team went 6-4. The next year, he became president of Sharon Springs football and led the Sharon Spring Steelers to an undefeated season and victory in the Lanier Bowl. Then he helped the organization start the first travel teams.

One of his players went to Pinecrest Academy. The private Catholic school was looking to start a football program. The player’s father saw Wiggins’ success at Sharon Springs and asked him to interview for the job.

“Next thing I know, I got the job,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins built the program from scratch. The Paladins played a year independent, then joined the Georgia Independent School Association in 2004. Wiggins’ teams went 45-44-1 in eight seasons, highlighted by a run to the GISA state semifinals in 2009. Wiggins then transitioned the program into the GHSA the following season. A year later, he was fired amid upheaval in the athletic department.

Horizon was quick to scoop up Wiggins. The school hired him as its athletic director and football coach, but he had to wait a year for the football part – not enough players came out for the 2012 season. The next year, when enough came out to have a team, the Warriors went 0-10.

But Wiggins kept building. Horizon went 2-9 in 2014, then 9-3 in 2015 and lost in the GICAA state championship. Last season, the Warriors went 5-6, losing in the first round of the state playoffs.

Now, Wiggins is back for another season. His Special Forces background stills influences much of how he conducts his program and sets it expectations.

“The one thing that sticks out the most is his attention to detail,” Horizon assistant coach Damon Taylor said. “He’s just so organized.”

But Wiggins says he’s also dropped much of the intensity he used early in his tenure at Pinecrest to motivate his teams.

“The kids there will tell you that I was a mess, I guess,” Wiggins said. “I didn’t accept mediocrity. I don’t accept mediocrity now, but I understand the culture has changed.”

Wiggins says he intends to keep coaching as long as he can. He’d even like to coach at another of the county’s schools, but he says he loves Horizon and working with its students and staff.

In his youth, Wiggins said he thought he’d be resigned to a life picking cotton or tobacco near where he grew up in Latta, South Carolina.

“Now, here I am,” Wiggins said. “Just humbled.”