Brandon Stewart knows what it's like to be part of a soccer program that's interwoven with the community.
In fact, that's really all he's ever known.
Stewart, who was hired Wednesday as North Forsyth's boys soccer coach, grew up around the Heritage High School program in Conyers. His grandmother was a teacher in the county, and his uncle played for the Patriots in the 1980s.
As a kid, Stewart was a ball boy for Heritage before starring on the pitch for the Patriots, garnering All-State and Region Player of the Year honors before graduating in 1997, then playing four years at Berry College.
Stewart returned to coach his alma mater for 12 seasons, compiling a 139-64-9 record and qualifying for the playoffs all but one season.
Now, he wants to give the Coal Mountain community the same thing.
"That's what I want to try to build and take to North Forsyth," Stewart said. "Speaking with the new principal, Mr. Carnaroli; Coach Tilden, the athletic directer; this is what I tried to paint the picture of: You're not there yet. I only looked back about five, 10 years of their history, but it doesn't look like they have a strong history there. So what do we do to build that? What can I bring to the school, to the community, to help do those things?"
North Forsyth was off to a 1-6 start to the 2020 season, one year after finishing 0-12-1.
Part of those struggles can be explained by North Forsyth's placement in a perennially challenging region.
For example, of the four schools to reach the past two Class 7A state championship games, three are from Forsyth County — Lambert (2019), Lambert (2018), South Forsyth (2018).
"They're in a hellacious region, so you've got to come with it every game," Stewart said. "There are no off days and no off games, and I'm used to that being in the Augusta region with a couple of those big dogs — Lakeside and Greenbrier."
Stewart, who will teach special education, is a five-time Region Coach of the Year, most recently in 2017 when Heritage 14-7 and reached the quarterfinals of the Class 6A playoffs.
The Patriots were 7-0-3 this season, including a 4-0 mark in Region 3-6A.
“We’re honored to have Brandon as our next head boys soccer coach and we look forward to the future with him,” North Forsyth athletic director Scott Tilden said in a statement. “The state of our soccer program is strong, and we look forward to a competitive season and continued growth of the program.”
Stewart admits turning North Forsyth into a contender won't happen overnight.
But Stewart has plenty of experience establishing roots — his 12-year run at Heritage makes him the second-longest tenured coach in that program.
"This isn't a stop-gap move for us," Stewart said. "I've got a kindergartner, sixth- and seventh-grader next year. So that's what I tried to let them know: I'm trying to do this for the long haul. It may take a couple of years, but the running thread there is, how do we build consistency, how do we build that passion?"