For many high school coaches, working at the college level is goal, a future destination they hope to reach before their career is done. South Aiken offensive coordinator Ted Cain checked that box on his resume with a stint as a college coach that spanned more than 30 years and ended in 2010.
First serving as an assistant at his alma mater, Furman, from 1977 to 1985, the 1970 Aiken High School grad was the offensive coordinator at NC State from 1986 to 1996. He was then the head coach at VMI for two years before serving as Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator from 2001-2009. After a short term heading up the Commodores’ special teams and tight ends, Cain found himself out of the college ranks after the 2010 season.
“Things played out for me at the college level after 34 years,” he said. “I still see myself as a teacher and a coach.”
His wife is a horse-lover, and his mother still lives at Cain’s childhood home on 20 acres, prime horseriding territory. So Cain took a physical education position at Barnwell last year.
South Aiken head coach Jeremy West said that he had wanted to bring Cain on for last season, but it didn’t work out.
“He was doing the college thing, but he wanted to come back to his hometown, to the area, and coach,” West said.
When a position came open to teach PE and coach at South Aiken, Cain said the change just made sense for his family situation. He added that coaching in high school allows him to get to players at an earlier phase in their football development and influence their on-field growth.
“I think it’s kind of the purest form of football,” he said. “You get to really teach a young man the fundamentals. Sometimes in college, the guys have already developed into some good habits and poor habits that you can’t change.”
West said that, in addition to the organization Cain has helped bring on both sides of the ball, his offensive coordinator’s time at the college level has proven valuable.
Not only does he bring the schemes and practice methods from collegiate ball, but Cain also has connections that make next-level opportunities more readily available to T-Bred athletes.
“It’s real big for our kids, as far as having that level of coaching,” West said.
And even though Cain has a plan for how he wants practices to go, West said the former Furman tight end is able to translate complex concepts for high school minds.
“He’s real flexible, too,” West said. “He’s taken a lot of that advanced stuff and made it more high school accessible.”
The transition to high school football has not been completely seamless for Cain. Both he and West pointed to film study as something that Cain cherishes in the preparation process for each game.
With Cain teaching a weightlifting class and four periods of PE, while also monitoring a study hall session, he said his film study time suffers compared to what he became accustomed to at the college level.
“In high school, you just don not have the time during the day to watch the film and break down the schemes,” he said.
Still, he’s enjoying the opportunity to take a step back and coach younger kids, particularly in his home town. Friday night will be Cain’s first chance to coach against his high school alma mater, something that will create a unique experience.
“I don’t think I’ve been to a game at Aiken Stadium since I graduated, so it’ll be different going back there on Friday,” Cain said.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.