Mike Byus By the NuMBers
STa TE fiNaL
STa TE ChamPioNS
He and his wife handpicked the area to be
closer to his parents while finding a location
suitable for his son and daughter-in-law to raise
“We started with a region and a few schools
and kind of married into this area,” Byus said.
Byus Means Business
East Lincoln Now Chasing
Championship Trophy No. 2
By DErEk Smi Th
The easT LincoLn MusTangs weren’t necessarily known as a football powerhouse before Mike Byus arrived at he Denver, N.C., high school in 2005.
They held an unimpressive 2-9 playoff record
in 39 years and struggled for respectability in
Lincoln County with their longtime rival, Lincolnton. Two different coaches had come and gone
in four years.
Byus’ teams showed steady improvement
in each of his first four years as head coach,
culminating in a 2A state title appearance.
Four years later, the disappointment of the
2008 loss in the state championship game
was erased and Byus’ eight years of program-
building was validated.
In 2012, his team went unbeaten and defeated Tarboro, winners of the previous three
straight 2A titles, to give East Lincoln its first
state championship in nearly four decades,
overshadowing the cross-county Wolves, who
lost to Tarboro in the 2011 state finals.
For his accomplishments, Byus was honored
as the Associated Press high school football
coach of the year and was named as an assis-
tant on the North Carolina Shrine Bowl team.
along,” he said, “and, if they do, they are defi-
nitely few and far between. My daughter says I
haven’t stopped smiling yet. It’s definitely some-
thing I’ll always remember – this group of kids.
The accomplishment of doing it is one thing
but to do it against such a quality opponent [is
From 2005-2008, the Mustangs went one
round deeper into the playoffs each season
en route to the state title game. A third-round
exit in 2009 and two straight first-round losses
dampened some of the excitement the Mus-
tangs achieved in the first half of Byus’ tenure.
But, last season East Lincoln won its fourth
conference title under Byus, averaging 41. 7
points and 410 yards per contest, improved to
17-7 all-time in playoff games and ended Tar-
boro’s reign as state champions 24-20.
Byus said he and his staff took valuable
lessons away from the 2008 state finals ap-
pearance to ensure the team was ready for the
challenge of another title shot.
“I focused more this time around on the game
and getting the kids ready to play the game,” he
said. “I remember last time it was Wednesday
[before the state championship] and I said, ‘I
don’t care who goes to the game and I don’t care
how they get there. I’m tired of worrying about it.’
I can’t complain this year about them being pre-
pared for a game because week-in and week-out
they got ready to play and it didn’t matter who it
was. That’s all you can ask of a bunch of kids.”
Byus, a West Virginia native, spent nine years
“It’s been almost like coming home. I wanted
to be somewhere I was appreciated and where
my family fits in with the community. You can’t
ask for a better community and how we’ve been
Byus had a plan to put East Lincoln football
on the map like he did Athens Drive and Rob-
binsville. Byus led the Jaguars to the playoffs
four times, and the Black Knights made the
postseason in four of the five years he was there.
“I think the first thing is kids need to know
you care about them,” Byus said. “We honestly
don’t talk a whole lot about winning and losing.
The biggest thing we talk about is whether they
prepare well enough to have a chance to win.
We also talk about academics and how well
they are behaving in the classroom.
“Some of the things we noticed when we first
started this were the kids didn’t know how to
work. We had to get through one whole practice
in the beginning that we felt like was a good
practice. Then, try to teach them to do it two
days in a row. We encourage our kids to play
multiple sports. If they are out playing multiple
sports, staying in shape and staying in the
weight room, getting bigger and stronger, then I
don’t have any problem with that at all.”
During the spring of 2012, Internet rumors
and at least one published report linked Byus
to the job opening at Newton-Conover, a rival
school in Catawba County.
Whether or not Byus was truly a candidate
at Newton-Conover remains unknown, but it
appears he made the right decision to stay in
Denver, if he did consider leaving.
“I love it here,” Byus said. “I’ve had the op-
As he and the Mustangs set out to defend
their 2A state championship, Byus reflected
one last time on last year’s historic season.
“Well, those things sometimes never come
as head coach at Athens Drive in Raleigh (42-
38 record) and five years at the helm of Rob-
binsville ( 34-22 record) before becoming East
portunity [to pursue other coaching jobs] but
when it comes right down to it, it’s hard to leave
somewhere you have such a good relationship
with the kids and the community.”