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Bill Kirby Jr.: For Bill Yeager, a love of high school football and those Friday night lights


Friday night lights have been a part of Bill Yeager for most of his life, from his playing days at Reid Ross High School to his coaching years at Terry Sanford, South View, Pine Forest, and Gray’s Creek high schools and now back to Terry Sanford.

He knows the anticipation of game night.

He knows the rush of coming onto the field and the “butterflies” and the adrenalin.

And on Oct. 21, Bill Yeager would know the emotions of what his presence of 45 years in the old Johnnie L. Dawkins Stadium at Terry Sanford High School would mean to athletes past and present.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Yeager, 68, would say after the dedication of Bill Yeager Field before a homecoming game crowd, with the Bulldogs hosting longtime rival E.E. Smith before a packed home crowd. “It’s a little overwhelming would be an understatement. It’s more than overwhelming. And it is great to see these former players and see how they have grown up and see how they turned out.”

‘He cared for the kids’

Bill Yeager grew up in the Tokay neighborhood of north Fayetteville playing sandlot football with neighborhood kids including George Page, Billy Starks, Larry Marbert, Wallace Pittman, Freddie Pittman, Randy Page and, in his words, “just whoever wanted to play.”

Many would find themselves later playing for Coach John Daskal at nearby Reid Ross High School, where Yeager was a tight end for Daskal’s many N.C. High School Athletic Association teams. Others include assistant coaches Sonny Basinger, Jake Woullard and Charlie Underwood.

“We had pretty good teams,” Yeager says. “We were 7-3 my junior year and 8-2 my senior year.”

And a talented athlete, Daskal says, Bill Yeager was.

“He is very worthy,” Daskal, 88, says about the field being named in honor of Yeager. “He was the assistant coach, then the head coach, and now he’s back” as a volunteer coach. “Like I said, he is very worthy. He’s given his life to it. He cared for the kids. He took them to heart, and he treated them all the same whether on the junior varsity or the varsity.”

Daskal was head coach at Terry Sanford High School from 1985 to 1991 before recommending Yeager as his successor.

After his playing days at Reid Ross High School, Yeager would attend Lees McRae College at Banner Elk in the North Carolina mountains from 1972 to 1974, earning all-conference honors in 1974 before earning an athletic scholarship to play tight end at Appalachian State University from 1974 to 1976.

He returned to Terry Sanford High School in 1974 as offensive coordinator and wide-receivers coach, serving under coaches Mackie Hall, Len Maness and Daskal before getting the call as head coach in 1991 until 2000.

Yeager was an intense coach.

He demanded the best of his athletes, and he earned the respect of his athletes and Cumberland County football coaches to include Bobby Poss, the late Randy Ledford and the late Bob Paroli.

Yeager was named 4-A Co-Coach of the Year in 1995 by N.C. Prep Football News, and in 1998 he was selected as head coach for the East in the postseason East-West All Star Game in Greensboro.

He would spend a year as an assistant coach at Pine Forest High School before heading to Gray’s Creek High School in 2002 as head coach. Yeager took the fledgling squad to an 11-2 record and was honored as Cumberland County Coach of the Year.

Yeager left high school football to become an assistant coach with the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s new football program. He would remain there three seasons before returning to Pine Forest High as an assistant and in 2011 as an assistant at Terry Sanford High.

‘A Bulldog for life’

Old athletes gathered on Oct. 21 to tell the old coach what Bill Yeager has meant to their lives.

Among the old Bulldogs were Tim Dunn, Dee Hollingsworth, Aaron Chavis, Kadrian Rose, Cress Bell, Frankie Campbell, Rodell Wynn, David Hedgecoe, Derek Boone, Andre Skates, Tim Godwin, Michael Barclay, Phil James, Tyronne Pitt, David Barrett, Titus Davis, Nathan Lipscomb, Willie Richards, Tremain Simmons, Barnes Smith, Andrew Jayne, Christian Jayne, and current Bulldogs coach Bruce McClelland.

“Coach Yaeger is one of those coaches you will never forget,” says Barnes Smith, who played four seasons with the Bulldogs. “His dedication and love for the game of football is unmatched. Coach Yeager always has the answers you need, whether it's about the playbook, the opponent that week or you, if you just need some life advice. He is one of the men that when he speaks, everyone listens, hoping to learn something. Coach Yeager is the epitome of a great coach and what it truly means to be a Bulldog for life.”

Former Reid Ross High School teammates were there, too, including Kenny Lewis, George Page, Billy Starks, Terry Evans, Al Howard and Larry Marbert. And former teammate Jimmy Wood from Yeager’s playing days at Lees McRae College.

Wife Chris, the couple’s two daughters and son, and their grandchildren shared in the unveiling of the Bill Yeager Field moment and the bronze plaque nearby.

“It was emotional,” Bill Yeager says. “The ball bounces funny ways sometimes. I try to be as real as possible, and if you play the game correctly you can have a lot of fun.”


I was a young sportswriter for the old Fayetteville Times newspaper somewhere back in the 1970s when I first saw Bill Yeager coaching along the sidelines as an assistant at the field that now bears his name. I knew then Bill Yeager would be a coach who would succeed and Friday night lights would forever be a part of his life.

The old Johnny L. Dawkins Sr. Stadium is where some of the more talented football athletes have played the game, from Roger Gann, Tommy Bradford, Booten Jackson, Jack Almendarez, Jimmy Sandlin, George Armstrong, Frank Townsend, Sammy Henrickson, Bobby Spicer and Trey Edge to the late Johnny Lanius, perhaps the most gifted quarterback in Cumberland County high school football history.

Most Bulldog fans of today don’t remember Peter Clark, aka Ol’ Pete, the self-appointed cheerleader who roamed the sidelines for almost every game back in the 1950s to the late 1970s. Ol’ Pete lived and died with every down and every snap of the football at Fayetteville High School and Terry Sanford High School games on a Friday night under the lights. Ol’ Pete would have loved Oct. 21, 2022, when his old stomping grounds became Bill Yeager Field.

Johnny Dawkins Sr. once was described as “the best friend the Bulldogs ever had,” driving his Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible to every away game. He died at age 43 on June 8, 1951. Today, Terry Sanford High School celebrates another “best friend the Bulldogs ever had.”

They know him as coach.

They call it Bill Yeager Field.

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Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Fayetteville, Bill Kirby Jr., sports, football, Terry Sanford High School