Northwood grad Josh Proctor takes next step as IMG Academy’s newest tight ends coach

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Cardinal Gibbons' special teams coordinator Josh Proctor (center), raises a fist, signifying fourth down, on the sideline of a Crusaders game during his three-year stint with the program from 2019-21. Proctor was hired to be the tight ends coach at IMG Academy in May.
Cardinal Gibbons' special teams coordinator Josh Proctor (center), raises a fist, signifying fourth down, on the sideline of a Crusaders game during his three-year stint with the program from 2019-21. Proctor was hired to be the tight ends coach at IMG Academy in May.
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BRADENTON, Florida — For most of his life, Josh Proctor has called the gridiron home.

No matter the state, city or town he’s lived in, football has given the the 2005 Northwood High School graduate much-needed consistency, providing him with a constant sense of both security and structure.

Now, as a coach, Proctor uses football to do the same for his student-athletes, giving them a place where they can not only have fun playing the sport he loves, but do so while learning life lessons, building relationships and, most importantly, staying out of trouble.

After all the game’s done for him, he says it’s the least he can do.

“Football absolutely saved my life as far as keeping me out of trouble, out of jail and from doing things that I shouldn’t be doing,” Proctor said. “I feel like I’ve got so much to pay back the sport of football, so I try to be the coach that I needed when I was that age.”

Over the last 15 years, Proctor has coached up and down the East Coast, taking a variety of positions at high schools and colleges in West Virginia, Florida and North Carolina — including his alma mater, where he was the varsity running backs coach and assistant wrestling coach for the 2011-12 season.

But in late May, Proctor announced that, after a three-year stint at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh —most notably as the Crusaders’ special teams coordinator, part of a larger seven-year career at CGHS — he was taking on arguably his most exciting coaching role yet: he’s now the tight ends coach at the illustrious IMG Academy in Bradenton.

“It’s another opportunity to learn,” Proctor said. “I’ve coached just about every position on the offensive side and I’ve been a special teams coordinator for the past seven years, but it’s still an opportunity to learn because it’s a chance to coach different types of athletes. … I’m excited to learn different offenses and defenses that we didn’t run at Cardinal Gibbons. It’s all just so exciting and I can’t wait to see where it leads.”

For Proctor, the opportunity to coach at one of the country’s most prestigious high school athletic programs didn’t come overnight. Instead, it stemmed from years of putting in the work, making connections in the sport and, of course, honing his craft as one of the area’s most versatile assistant coaches.

Family ties

Growing up, Proctor knew football was in his blood.

His family hails from south-central West Virginia, near Charleston, where the sport runs deep throughout the region.

Proctor was born in West Virginia, but moved with his mother to Raleigh shortly after his birth. That didn’t stop him, though, from getting a glimpse of the athletic greatness pouring out of the area in the 1990s. His parents graduated from rival high schools in Kanawha County — his dad from DuPont High School and his mom from East Bank High School — which came together to form one of the state’s best football rivalries, combining to claim five state titles in the early-to-mid ‘90s.

Though the rivalry is now defunct, with the two schools having consolidated in 1999 to form Riverside High School in Belle, Proctor still remembers when he’d visit his family during his Thanksgiving breaks, where he’d get to see the two schools square off.

When he wasn’t visiting, his grandfather would call him often to give him updates on area scores, highlights and happenings.

He even got to see Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Randy Moss, a DuPont standout from 1992-95, play when he was a youngster, an experience he’ll never forget.

“It was small-town West Virginia, where towns close for games — kind of like Rose Hill or Tarboro, where things shut down just to go to the games — and it was an awesome experience,” Proctor said. “Those aspects of football are what I love about it. I got into it because of those stories. My dad played for DuPont, I got to see Randy Moss play, it was just sports. It was something to do, something to keep me out of trouble, and that’s why I fell in love with it.”

When it was time for Proctor to go to high school, his family moved from the Cary area to Moncure, allowing him to attend Northwood, where he would eventually become a team captain on the Chargers’ football and wrestling teams during his senior season.

“Around my sophomore year, we started to turn that table and become successful,” Proctor said. “Once I graduated, I thought we’d laid a pretty decent foundation for the guys to build on.”

Today, Proctor still keeps tabs on the Northwood football and wrestling programs, often checking the Chargers’ scores immediately after Cardinal Gibbons’ games on Friday nights.

“It’s home. I would eventually love to settle down and be home,” Proctor said. “Chatham County is home. Northwood’s always going to have a special place for me because football, wrestling and those communities were enormous in my upbringing.”

Coaching carousel

After graduating from West Virginia University in 2010, Proctor returned to Pittsboro for his first high school coaching job, taking a position as the team’s running backs coach. The Chargers suffered from a down year, following a third-round playoff run in 2010 with a 4-7 rebuilding season in 2011.

His stint with his alma mater didn’t last long, however, because in 2012, Proctor opted to return to West Virginia University to work toward his Master’s of Science in Athletic Coaching Education.

While in Morgantown for the second time, he got a job at Morgantown High School, where he acted as the Mohigans’ running backs coach and head strength and conditioning coach. This is where he’d meet Jeff Pond, Morgantown’s offensive coordinator, who’d later become instrumental in Proctor being hired by IMG Academy.

Over the next 10 years, Proctor would bounce around between a few different schools, including Cardinal Gibbons from 2014-15 and again from 2016-19, Mater Academy Charter High School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, from 2015-16 — alongside Pond, who was the team’s defensive coordinator at the time — and Louisburg College in 2019. He coached everything from wide receivers to special teams to running backs, getting a feel for just about everywhere on the offensive side of the ball.

But Proctor’s most notable stop came, once again, at Cardinal Gibbons from 2019-21, where he was the team’s special teams coordinator, among other things, during a stretch of three straight title game appearances for the Crusaders.

After consecutive state championship losses in 2019 and 2020, the Crusaders bounced back with a vengeance this past season, racking up a 15-1 record en route to a dominant win over the Chambers Cougars in the NCHSAA 4A title game, 14-2.

“I still can’t believe it. I’ve got my state championship ring and, every morning, I put it on to remind me of what comes from coaching the kids up and making sure they’re in the right places,” Proctor said. “We wouldn’t win those games if they didn’t trust us and what we were doing and that’s what happened this year.

“We’ve built a nice, solid program at Cardinal Gibbons and it was an awesome ride,” he continued. “I miss them. I’ve talked to everybody every day since I’ve been back, so that’s the kind of relationship we had there.”

Having finally gotten over the hump with the Crusaders, Proctor said he felt comfortable taking another opportunity if a good one came his way.

Earlier this spring, when he saw there was an opening for a strength and conditioning coaching job at IMG Academy, Proctor reached out to Pond, now the defensive coordinator at IMG, with the thought of applying in mind. But instead, Pond told him there was an assistant coaching vacancy for the Ascenders that needed to be filled — and now, Proctor’s done just that.

‘Hogwarts for athletes’

IMG Academy isn’t your typical private school.

At least, that’s not how it advertises itself.

According to its website, IMG is “the world’s most prestigious sports, performance and educational institution,” featuring a 600-acre campus that hosts camps and other programs for a variety of sports including basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer, tennis and more. Its campus acts as a training ground for thousands of athletes, including those participating in professional and Olympic sports.

Essentially, it’s a nationally recognized boarding school focused primarily on training student-athletes both on the field and in the classroom.

And with that comes wildly competitive sports teams that house unparalleled talent.

Over the past five seasons, IMG Academy’s football program has been ranked in the top 10 nationally each year, including a national championship in 2020, when the Ascenders finished with an 8-0 record after clobbering nearly everyone on their schedule.

According to IMG’s website, the Academy has sent more than 200 student-athletes to college football programs around the nation, and in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Ascenders had their first-ever top 10 draft pick when Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal was selected by the Giants at No. 7.

“The student-athletes are the priority,” Proctor said of IMG Academy. “We’re here to help them get to the next level. (IMG) has athletic trainers and the athletic performance facilities are top-notch, second to none. … It’s a pretty cool environment.”

Proctor said he was impressed with how tight-knit IMG’s circle was, with seemingly everyone from the trainers to the coaches to the program directors to the school’s administrators wanting to see nothing more than its student-athletes succeed. That’s one reason why he felt comfortable accepting the position.

“It’s basically Hogwarts for student-athletes, it’s a dream come true,” Proctor said with a laugh, referring to the school for the young wizards of “Harry Potter” fame. “If you’re a top-level athlete and you want to play at the next level, you know where you’ve got to go, just like Harry Potter. If you want to be a magician, you know where you’ve got to go.”

While he’s never coached tight ends specifically, Proctor said he’s excited for the level of versatility the position brings, with him being able to run drills made for both wide receivers and offensive linemen.

“As a new tight ends coach, I get to do wide receiver stuff, but then I get to go in and add offensive line work into my weekly practices and schedules,” he said. “That’s really exciting to me.”

The next couple of months for Proctor will consist of helping out with youth camps, meeting his student-athletes and getting ready for the upcoming season with mid-summer practices, all of which he’s used to after more than a decade into his coaching career.

Even though he’s now working at IMG Academy, his mindset and preparation remain the same. After all, at the end of the day, it’s football. It’s in his blood.

“I’ve tried to do some other things,” Proctor said. “I’ve done construction, I’ve built cabinets, but I’m good at coaching football. It’s what I’m good at and it’s what I do. It doesn’t feel like I’m working. Last week, my first week in Florida, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. we were outside on the field, coaching kids and doing youth camps, and it didn’t feel like work one bit.

“It was 90 degrees with 95% humidity,” he added, “and I’m getting sunburned, sweating my butt off, but I came back the next day and did the same thing over again.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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