Rapid Ascent Hasn't Rattled Young Coach

In two years, Danny McGrath, 25, went from center at Virginia Tech to head coach at Loudoun Valley, but he feels prepared by his experiences.
In two years, Danny McGrath, 25, went from center at Virginia Tech to head coach at Loudoun Valley, but he feels prepared by his experiences. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Danny McGrath had spent the past three weeks in front of a computer developing offensive and defensive football schemes. He'd been answering e-mails from parents, assistant coaches and prospective players. He'd been in the equipment room sorting through helmets and mouth guards. But yesterday, finally, the 25-year-old newly named head coach of Loudoun Valley was crouched over a green blocking pad with his hands dug into the grass in a four-point stance.

He was finally where he wanted to be.

"You're going to uncoil and explode forward using your hips," McGrath said to 10 offensive linemen who looked on intently. "Don't be afraid to fall flat on your face. That's what this pad is for."

Then, as naturally as if he were back in training camp at Virginia Tech -- where just two years ago he was the starting center -- McGrath sprung forward and into the pad in front of him and landed on his stomach.

A few minutes later, as his unit jogged to get water, McGrath laughed and acknowledged that, after the three sometimes overwhelming weeks since his hiring, it was good to get back to football. Back to what he knows best.

"I don't have to worry about anyone bothering me out here," he said.

On the first night of training camp for the Vikings, in front of a team that had waited nearly two months for its coaching vacancy to be filled, McGrath's transformation -- from immature sophomore starter at Herndon High to starting offensive lineman and team captain at Virginia Tech to being one of the youngest head coaches in the state -- was complete.

McGrath has coached just one year at the high school level, but the former Hokie said each step in his career has been a part of his preparation for this moment.

The process started with Tommy Meier, coach at Herndon. Meier had seen it many times in his 25 years of coaching. A big, talented kid would come into the program with infinite potential but could not balance his off-the-field popularity with his on-field skill.

In the Hornets' weight room, Meier saw his star sophomore messing around with his friends during weight training. "Getting more attention for being loud and obnoxious than he was for making tackles," Meier said.

So Meier pulled the 15-year-old McGrath aside and delivered a message.

"There are enough clowns in the world," McGrath recalled Meier saying. "You have the opportunity to do something that other people don't. You might want to keep your head on straight."

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