NINETY SIX — Matthew Owings took a moment to catch his composure before giving a short statement Thursday night at Ninety Six High School.

The reality hit him: He’s the head football coach at the school where he played and graduated.

“This place just means a lot to me,” Owings said. “So now to get the opportunity to come back here and be a head coach and try to instill my vision, my attitude and my mentality to these kids and this school, I can’t really put it into words how excited I am.”

Owings was one of four finalists for the job among 40 applicants. He joins Ninety Six after one year at AC Flora, a Class 4A school in Columbia, where he served as associate head coach and offensive coordinator.

Owings started his coaching career at Ninety Six, joining the Wildcats as an assistant football coach and track coach from 2005-09.

He coached at Lewisville and Blythewood before his stint at AC Flora.

Ninety Six athletic director John-Mark Scruggs had little time to find a new coach this spring after Andre Woolcock left the program on April 26. He said Owings comes in as a great fit despite the time constraints of the hiring process.

“I’m a personal believer that everything is God’s plan,” Scruggs said. “We were fortunate to have a really good person in Andre. It was unfortunate that he left at the time he left, but I just think it was meant for (Owings) to come here.”

Staff meetings and parent meetings at Ninety Six are set to start next week, Owings and Scruggs said. The team has gone through some practices with assistant coaches this spring, but Owings has limited time before the end of the school year to have any practices.

Owings said he had six interviews this spring for jobs around the state. He was a finalist for the Blythewood High head coaching job.

Through the last few years, Owings said he had Ninety Six in mind as the ideal place to take his first head coaching position.

“I was just hoping and praying it would work out,” Owings said. “I kept my fingers crossed and prayed about it and now we’re here today.”

The transition, Owings said, should be smooth. He has worked with both Ninety Six coordinators, Tripp Henderson and Chad Ellis, in the past. Owings also played alongside region rival Saluda’s coach, Stewart Young, at Presbyterian College.

Ninety Six went 9-3 last season with a second-place finish in Region 2-2A and a third-round playoff appearance. Woolcock was named Index-Journal Coach of the Year after leading the team to an 8-0 start and recovering from a 4-win season in 2018.

The Wildcats enter next season in a difficult region alongside Saluda and Abbeville, and graduates many seniors, including Index-Journal Player of the Year Kentavius Williams.

Owings hopes his voice will resonate with players because he played in the same colors during his own high school days.

“They’re quicker to listen because that’s the guys they grew up watching,” Owings said. “I think we’re going to be fine. I’m excited.”

Contact sports writer Skylar Rolstad at 223-1813 or follow him on Twitter @SkyRolSports.

Contact sports writer Skylar Rolstad at 223-1813 or follow him on Twitter @SkyRolSports.