CONCORD – Twenty-one years ago, a New York boy came south to make his way.
He got into N.C. State University on a wrestling scholarship, and when he left he’d earned two ACC championships, a college degree and a world full of possibilities.
He gained experience and won awards as he climbed from substitute teacher to teacher’s assistant to coach to assistant athletics director. And before long, he was running his own athletics department, headlined by of one of the most feared football programs in the United States.
Now, he is here, taking the reins of arguably the most successful sports program in Cabarrus County: Cox Mill High School.
And Philip Davanzo III couldn’t be happier.
On Wednesday, Davanzo was named the fourth athletics director in Cox Mill’s 10-year history. He comes to Cabarrus from just across the county line, where he was the AD at Mallard Creek High for five years.
Davanzo takes over for the accomplished Brad Hinson, who will begin as the AD at Mount Pleasant High School next month.
Davanzo knows he has some big shoes to fill replacing the 6-foot-6 Hinson, but as a former athlete, he’s a competitor and has lofty plans for Cox Mill under his leadership.
“I’m super excited,” Davanzo said. “Brad has done a phenomenal job, and I’m a little nervous following Brad. As I said to the (coaching) staff today, ‘Our goal is simple: We want to develop model citizens, model students, model athletes, and the vision is to become the premier athletic department in the country.’
“I don’t care about the state or local,” Davanzo assured. “We’re going to be relentless in working for our student-athletes and our community to be the premier athletic department in the country.”
Davanzo is familiar with achieving the goals he sets for himself.
Growing up in Vestal, New York, a town of about 28,000 just outside Binghamton, Davanzo was a high-achiever in high school, but he knew professional opportunities were limited in and around his small town. So before graduating high school in 1998, he began to eye Research Triangle Park, which was known for its great colleges and growth potential.
Davanzo went to N.C. State and notched wins on the mat for some strong Wolfpack wrestling teams and then set out to find his way in the world.
His first job at a school was at Raleigh’s Millbrook High, where he started as a substitute teacher. Then he became a teacher’s assistant and soon after was the head softball coach and assistant wrestling coach, and later was the defensive line coach for the football team.
In 2005, Davanzo landed at Durham’s Jordan High School, where he was the head wrestling coach and assistant AD for nine years. At Jordan, he was the school’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, but a year later there was more for him to take on. And in 2014, he got his first full-time AD job, taking over at Mallard Creek.
With the Mavericks, Davanzo became known for his deft touch with social media, cultivating strong relationships with fans and enhancing school pride as a whole. During his time at Mallard Creek, the school won numerous championships, and the Mavericks’ football program produced titles, national rankings and a bevy of college signees.
So why leave a nationally recognized 4A powerhouse in Mecklenburg County for a position with a 3A program -- albeit a successful one -- in smaller Cabarrus County?
Davanzo said he has longtime friends here – namely Hinson, Central Cabarrus AD Jamie Billings and Hickory Ridge AD Phil Furr – who told him this was a great place to work and grow.
And after meeting with Cabarrus County Schools athletics director Bryan Tyson and Cox Mill Principal Andrew Crook, Davanzo decided Cox Mill would be just the spot for him to continue his climb.
“Brad, Bryan, Jamie, Phil – they all just sold me on the possibilities of Cabarrus County and what my mission is: that I can really accomplish some great things here,” Davanzo said. “I’m here to learn, and there’s some growth opportunity here for me as a professional leader that I’m really anxious and excited about.
“Cox Mill is a very large school, so having 2,500 students and 700-and-some-odd athletes to handle will be a smooth transition,” he added. “Cox Mill has phenomenal athletics, and academics are amazing, so I think it makes for an easy transition, because at Mallard Creek we had great athletics as well. It’s kind of just a slide to the left or slide to the right.”
Davanzo has other reasons to be excited, one of which will arrive in a matter of weeks.
In July, Davanzo and his wife of nearly two years, Katie, are expecting their first child, a son.
After that, Davanzo will start his daily commutes from his home in McAdenville. The family chose to live in the tiny Gaston County town known for its Christmas lights because his wife is a realtor who primarily works there, Rock Hill and Fort Mill; the drive is doable for the both of them.
And his route to work won’t change that much since he’s now commuting to Cox Mill.
“It’s the same exit; I just turn left instead of right,” Davanzo said with a smile.
Davanzo admits he has his shortcomings.
“I’m a New York Mets, New York Jets and New York Rangers fan, so I’m a glutton for punishment,” he said.
But he believes in the way he does things, and the boy who came south all those years ago is indeed making his way.
“We accomplished a lot of great things at Mallard Creek,” Davanzo said. “I’m going to miss our coaches and the community. Where we were five years ago compared to today is remarkable, but it was because people bought into the vision and we had the best coaching staff in the state of North Carolina.
“And the goal now is to be the best in the country with Cox Mill.”