Smith Prepares for First Season in “Dream Job” at Rosewood

Smith Prepares for First Season in “Dream Job” at Rosewood

When Josh Smith envisions what his emotions will be like moments before his first game as head football coach at his alma mater, he doesn’t have to describe them, those emotions are visible right there on his face.

Smith was named head football coach at Rosewood in December, after Robert Britt announced his decision to step down in a meeting with his players and coaching staff. Having grown up in Rosewood, with a mother who taught at the school for 34 years, Smith now finds himself in what he describes as his “dream job.”

“All but four years of my life I’ve lived in Rosewood,” Smith said. “My mom was a teacher here for 34 years. Coach Daniel Barrow who I played for, that’s my role model. So at a young age I knew I wanted to be a coach. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I wanted to be a head football coach at Rosewood. My passion and my love for this place is like no other. To me, this is my dream job.”

Britt had been head coach at Rosewood since 2007, and finished with a record of 91-101. In his final five seasons, Rosewood went 42-15, including a 19-2 record against Carolina 1-A Conference opponents. The Eagles reached the 1-A Eastern finals in 2018 and 2022.

After Britt became Rosewood’s head football coach in 2007, the Eagles endured seven consecutive losing seasons from 2007 to 2013. The program began to turn a corner in 2014 when Rosewood finished 8-6. Since then, the Eagles have had just two losing seasons, 2016 and 2017.

“When you’re making the program your own, and getting the kids to buy in and be an extension of you on the field, it’s a process,” Britt said. “I had a football coach tell me one time, it’s not a quick turn, it’s like turning a boat. Building a culture where kids fall in love with the weight room and making themselves the best athlete they can be takes time. And the other thing is coaches get better as they’re coaching.”

Britt is now working at Knightdale High School where he’s coaching linebackers for the football program.

“I started thinking last summer that last season would be my last year because when you’re the head football coach of a program it’s got to be on your mind all the time,” Britt said. “You’ve got to be thinking about what your team is doing and are they doing things the right way to get better. And for 16 years that’s a grind. The Lord was talking to me that it was time to step back a little bit. It was nothing about Rosewood. We had great kids, a great staff and a great community. It was time to step away.”

Smith, a 2000 graduate of Rosewood, played quarterback for the Eagles before continuing his football career at Guilford College. He ultimately returned to Rosewood as head baseball coach and an assistant football coach in 2007, before departing for James Kenan, where he spent the next four years.

Smith ventured back to Rosewood in 2014 and spent the next nine seasons as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. The Eagles averaged 31.2 points per game during Smith’s nine seasons as offensive coordinator. Smith was the offensive play-caller during his time as offensive coordinator and he plans to continue in that role now that he’s also the head coach.

Britt gradually assigned more responsibility to Smith and allowed him to start devising practice plans. Over the last few years Britt began instilling into Smith the knowledge necessary to be a head coach.

“In 2014, Coach Britt passed the reigns on to me as offensive coordinator,” Smith said. “At that time we were running the Wing-T, and we got to a point where we just didn’t have the guys that run it. We branched out and went to what we do (offensively) now, and we met with a guy in Florida, and ever since that time Coach Britt has given me more responsibility each year. Over the last two or three years, that responsibility has become more and more. I’ve been practice planning and he’s allowed me to be me. During that same time he’s taught me about being a head coach.”

Rosewood’s two appearances in the 1-A Eastern finals, a loss at Pamlico County in 2018, and a loss at Tarboro in 2022, have served as valuable learning opportunities for both Smith and the entire Rosewood program. When the first-year head coach reflects on both of those games, he sees both valuable football and life lessons to be gleaned.

“I just think it’s experience,” Smith said. “Just giving those kids an opportunity to soak it in. Going into Tarboro we told the kids it was going to be a tall task, and we had a great game plan, we just kinda ran out of gas. And the same thing at Pamlico, that year we went, it was the first time we had been since 1991. Now that we’ve got kids that have experienced it, and we know we what we need to do as a coaching staff to get over that hump. Life is not all about football, but it’s about those moments and the memories that you’re cherishing.”

Being the head coach at Rosewood also affords Smith a luxury that not many of his coaching counterparts across Wayne County have. Smith has Aaron Sanders, the former head football coach at Spring Creek, as a member of the Eagles’ coaching staff. Having a former head coach to lean on as he navigates the upcoming season, is something Smith plans to take full advantage of.

“I think (Sanders) addition helped catapult us to something else over the last five years,” Smith said. “And I am leaning on him, just like I’m leaning on (Britt) when I have a question. It’s comforting knowing there’s somebody right there by my side who’s been through that and been through those experiences. His knowledge of the game is outstanding. Aaron is just a huge asset to us at Rosewood and we’re lucky to have him.”

As Rosewood prepares to open its 2023 season at county rival Charles B. Aycock on Aug. 18, Smith knows his emotions will be high that evening. His mom, who is currently battling multiple sclerosis and recently found out her cancer had returned, plans to be in attendance. Smith’s father, a veteran high school football referee, has already requested to have Aug. 18 off to be there in person to witness his son’s head coaching debut.

With the significance of finally being the head coach at his alma mater, the intensity that the game known as the “Little River Rivalry,” brings with it, and with his parents in the stands, Smith knows his coaching debut will be a moment he’ll remember forever.

“I do know it’s going to be a special moment for me,” Smith said as he fought back tears. “I’ve had a lot of my college teammates reach out and ask me when the game is and I know they’re coming down. My mom’s going to get to come, and I’m going to get emotional, she just had surgery and she found out her cancer came back, she’s going to be there. My dad who is a referee, I’ve already told him he had to take that day off. To be in that moment against a county rival, it’s going to be an awesome moment. Win or lose, it’s about putting our guys in a situation to be successful.”