FHS claims championship MMS soccer coach

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Dan Finnerty

When Dwight Long stepped down following the 2023 Franklin High School (FHS) varsity women’s soccer season, someone needed to step in. Enter Sam Vargas, fresh off back-to-back Macon Middle School (MMS) boys soccer championships. Vargas brings ample enthusiasm, along with six years of coaching experience at the middle and high school levels.

Coach Vargas recently talked about the latest championship with MMS and his vision going forward with FHS soccer. After finishing his high school soccer career as a goalkeeper, he began coaching FHS men and women goalkeepers in 2018, under current coach, Matt Kolodzik. When the opportunity to coach at MMS arose in 2021, Vargas jumped on it. In his three years at the helm, he and assistant coach Bryan Wilkinson guided their sixth-through-eighth-graders through three successful Blue Ridge Athletic Conference seasons. After a close 2-1 championship game loss the first year, the MMS Panthers went undefeated in 2022, and won the championship again in 2023, suffering only a loss to Smoky Mountain.

Vargas was quick to credit his assistant, and new MMS head soccer coach, Wilkinson. 

“Since meeting Bryan, he never wielded his experience over me. We had our first team meeting three years ago and I’m on the stage and I don’t even know what I’m talking about – I’m making it up as I go … and I see Bryan picking up trash in the audience. He’s always put me in a position to win. He keeps the culture together with the teachers and students. I think that’s the faithfulness of the Lord; whether pastoring, marriage, coaching – the Lord has always put a seasoned, godly man in my life; Bryan is one of them.” 

Vargas spoke about how he and Wilkinson instituted a mindset within their young team members to “win the moment.” 

“What we believe is that the game is a series of moments. Whatever moment you find yourself in, win your moment – over and over. The more moments you win help you win your game,” said Vargas.

SAM VARGAS (with his family), former soccer coach for Macon Middle School, is the new girls’ soccer coach at Franklin High School. Last season, he led the Middle School boys’ soccer team to victory.

He went on to emphasize that the same “win the moment” mentality applies to coaches also, only they are teaching moments. “The fear a young athlete has to get over is failing in front of his peers … a player many times will not take the chance he [or she] needs to take, to make the play happen because they are afraid of making a mistake,” said Vargas. “You have to rear that out of them and help them understand: the only way you’re going to win the game is if you take that chance of making a mistake.”

In addition to his coaching duties, Vargas is also an assistant pastor at Discover Church in Franklin. He brings a discipline to coaching that reflects his worldview and attitude, no matter what his employment may be on a given day. 

“There are so many lessons to be learned when part of a team. For me, the most important aspect is learning accountability. Every action has a consequence, whether good or bad. The responsibility of doing my job correctly is considering how my actions will affect the team,” Vargas elaborated.

VARGAS COACHING up his team.

Reflecting back on his tenure at MMS as well as forward to his new position at FHS, Vargas expressed gratefulness for the past and anticipation of the future. “I will cherish my time with MMS. I had the privilege to coach some amazing athletes and build relationships with their families. With that being said, there is a unique opportunity to coach a varsity sport. For me, I felt like my coaching philosophy and passion to coach the game would be a good fit for the women’s program.” He added another big incentive: “I also get the opportunity to coach alongside my dad, which is special.” Isidro Vargas has been an assistant coach at FHS for five years.

Taking the right approach for his inaugural term at the helm is a top priority for the new coach. 

“Part of my coaching philosophy is building the program, rather than just a team. Building a strong program, you need buy-in from the parents and players as soon as possible.”

“We want to establish goals and standards on the team, so that players know what to expect,” he added. “Our goal is to develop the team relationally, whether that be on or off the field. Taking over a program is difficult, but I think if you lead with conviction, say what you mean, and remain accountable to what you say and do, then you will build trust quickly.”

Regarding differences in coaching males or females, Vargas believes it comes down to basic analytics, which factors in mathematical realities to degrees of success. 

“My game play philosophy does not change. I believe we will win games this season based on percentages. The more shots we have, the more 50/50 balls we win; the better passes we make, and the more stops we have, then we will win. The challenge is finding how each individual girl likes to be coached, to be able to bring the fighting spirit out of them. Our practices are structured to bring out their competitive edge.

“You learn a lot by how players respond in different situations. They are looking to earn your trust and you are looking to earn theirs. I believe the more trust we can build, the more fun we will have in doing the hard things over and over to be a competitive program again,” he concluded.

Vargas and the FHS soccer Lady Panthers begin their new season and next chapter this month.