In 2007, Frank Hepler walked into then West Forsyth principal Richard Gill’s office for an interview to become the school’s first head football coach. After 14 seasons and 135 wins as head coach at Plantation (Fla.) High School, his alma mater, he was looking for a fresh start.
Hepler told Gill that he could turn the Wolverines into one of the top programs in the state within five years.
"I’m not a trash talker," Hepler said, "but what I say is what I believe."
Hepler quickly turned West into a believer.
Over the next seven seasons, Hepler and the Wolverines set the bar for high school football in Forsyth County. They won more games, made more playoff appearances and spent the most weeks ranked in the top 10. They won the only region title and state playoff games by a Forsyth football team.
And there doesn’t seem an end in sight. West is coming off another playoff appearance this past season – its fourth in a row, tying a county record – with an accomplished and experienced core of skill position players returning next season. The Wolverines’ ninth grade team went undefeated and almost unscored upon.
Hepler won’t see if West can continue its streak of playoff appearances or stretch its era of success. He can’t any longer, not with the health of his wife’s parents pulling them down to Florida every spare chance they had.
Every vacation, every break, Hepler said he and his wife travelled to be with them. At 91 and 94 years old respectively, they need care that other family isn’t available to provide.
That’s why Hepler resigned this past Monday.
"I’m taking a step back and helping with my family," Hepler said.
Hepler said he’ll remain at West through the end of the school year then leave to become defensive coordinator at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla. He and his wife, Heidi, will be closer to her parents, closer to their daughter who will get married this summer and closer to their son who will join the football coaching staff at West Palm Beach College.
The decision wasn’t easy, Hepler said, but it was one they started to contemplate soon after the Wolverines lost 36-31 at Dacula in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
"We prayed so much," Hepler said.
That was the foundation Hepler said he built West’s program on – God and family, academics and football, in that order. If he stayed, Hepler said he wouldn’t have been following his own principles.
Instead, the next coach in West football history will inherit what Hepler said is "a bright future." He said next season’s Wolverines will have strong leadership and talent. He lauded West’s new principal Betty Pope. He said he’ll have no input on who Pope and her administration hire next, but he said
"It would be nice to see [offensive coordinator Adam] Clack step in," Hepler said. "Whatever they choose, I know the administration will make a great decision."
The next coach will have considerable shoes to fill. Hepler ends his tenure at West as the third all-time winningest head coach in county history at 51-16.
Had he stayed, Hepler needed just eight wins to pass former South Forsyth coach Norris Vaughn, who was 58-31-1 from 1996-2003.
"Sad to leave," Hepler said, "but I’m excited about this new chapter with my family. Who knows? If I ever had the chance to come back [to West], I would love that."