CHARLOTTE – DJ McFadden has only seen success in his time at Independence High School, and as the Patriots' new head football coach, he’s looking to get the program that he cares so much about back to relevancy.
McFadden first starred on the Patriot football field as the starting quarterback of the 2005 and 2006 teams that both went unbeaten and won state titles during the legendary 109-game win streak that brought Independence national recognition.
He would go on to play at East Carolina and later play receiver at Winston-Salem State.
When he returned to the sidelines in 2014, he was hired by former Independence coach Joe Evans. That season, the Patriots won their first 12 games of the season and finished 12-1.
Evans was let go following that season, and the Patriots have fallen on hard times since, going a combined 27-40, including a 2-5 record this spring.
After leaving Independence, McFadden has been well traveled and working under some of the better coaches in the area with Evans, Mike Palmieri at Mallard Creek, Scott Chadwick at Myers Park and, most recently, Brian Hales at Butler.
From each, he’s taken pieces that he’s ready to implement at his alma mater.
“I have my mold of what I want to do, but I’ve been very fortunate to work with the best in the area since I’ve been coaching,” he said. “They all gave me something different. Joe Evans was a big weight room guy, Palmieri was a stickler to practice schedules and time and the same thing with Chadwick. Hales taught me how to run a program overall and he was great to work with. Now I can take all of that and adjust.
“But being here, it means everything to me. When I was there in 2014 to start my coaching career, I kind of set that goal there to one day be the head coach of that football team. I’ve kind of spoken it into existence. I just knew that at some point in time it was going to happen, so for me this is a dream job. I’m home, and I’m going to be here. It doesn’t happen often where you can go back to your school and try to lead that program.”
McFadden said he didn’t think about being a coach back when he was playing for the Patriots, instead focusing on not being the quarterback to end the streak.
But deep down he always knew he’d one day be roaming the sidelines. He said his father, Darryl McFadden Sr., coached youth football since he was about 21 years old and coached McFadden from Pee-Wee to middle school.
Now that he’s secured his first head coaching job at his dream school, there is work to be done. The Patriots haven’t had a winning season since 2015, and sit in a very top-heavy football conference with powerhouses Butler and Myers Park. Realignment, which begins next season, replaces Myers Park with three-time defending 3A state champion Charlotte Catholic and a resurgent Providence program.
But McFadden has a plan to get the Patriots back into that mix.
“The biggest thing for us is a pride thing and that starts in the weight room, how we lift, how we practice, how we attack meetings, how we carry ourselves in the building and how we are respectful to our teachers,” McFadden said. “I think it’s an overall mindset where we can instill in those kids. We want to get a little bit of that pride back and have an understanding of where it is that you are playing at and what wearing that gold uniform means.”
If anyone knows that, it’s McFadden, who said when he got the phone call saying he was the next Independence coach, it just all felt right.
“I had expectations for myself when I went into that interview room that I was going to make it hard for them to not hire me,” he said. “No one is going to come into this room and have more passion than me about this program. I wasn’t totally surprised by it because I felt like I put the time and the work in and that it was my time. I’m excited for it and I’m excited to be the first Black head coach there, too. That’s a big deal, but I’m just ready to go.”