Gayle Newsome deserves a new car, and her oldest son, Curt, should foot the bill. It's the least he can do for his most loyal supporter, the one who has driven to every home game in his 15 years as a college football assistant coach.
Seven seasons at James Madison, followed by seven at Virginia Tech and another at JMU. From Gayle's Peninsula home, that's about 50,000 miles on interstates, most of them blessedly dull, others positively harrowing — think fog on Afton Mountain or a truckers convoy on I-81 South.
"Probably the only negative is my mother's got an extra hour-and-a-half on the interstate," Newsome said with a laugh.
Such light moments were rare for Newsome the past two years. He was among three assistant coaches excused after Virginia Tech's 7-6 season in 2012, and his return to JMU, where he was part of the program's 2004 national championship, disappointed — the Dukes went 6-6, costing head coach Mickey Matthews his job after 15 years.
But even had JMU regained its playoff form, Newsome would have campaigned aggressively for the Emory & Henry position. He graduated from the school in 1982 and played defensive line for the Wasps. He met his wife, Melinda, there, and they were married in the campus chapel.
"Curt will bring the right (traits) to that place because he knows it," Christopher Newport coach Matt Kelchner said. "That's down in his guts and his heart. … When that opened, I said, 'I know the guy who's perfect for that.' "
Like Kelchner did in leaving a William and Mary assistant's job for CNU in 2000, Newsome is moving from the Division I world of athletic scholarships to non-scholarship Division III.
Moreover, unlike CNU, Emory & Henry is a pricey private school — annual tuition, room and board approaches $40,000 — with an undergraduate enrollment of fewer than 900.
Despite those hurdles and recent struggles, the Wasps do have tradition. From 1985-2000 under Lou Wacker, they won 11 Old Dominion Athletic Conference championships.
Wacker's successor, Don Montgomery, came from Division III national power Mount Union of Ohio. While the Wasps haven't endured a losing season since 2007, they were a pedestrian 45-45 in his nine years, 21-35 in the ODAC. They were 5-5 this season, 2-5 conference, and after the team squandered a 31-0 lead in the finale, losing 35-31 to Guilford, Montgomery resigned.
"There are a lot of good football coaches out there," Newsome said. "Any time you're struggling, to a degree, it gets back to recruiting. That's what you look at first."
Recruiting represents another steep learning curve, and not just because of Emory & Henry's profile and remote location. While Division I programs adhere to a strict NCAA recruiting calendar, Division IIIs are permitted virtually unlimited contact with prospects. Nor are there national limits on roster size or coaching staffs.
Newsome will spend the next few weeks interviewing current and prospective assistants and re-assessing the Wasps' recruiting priorities. For example, the 2013 roster did not include any players from Hampton Roads, the region Newsome mined for JMU and Virginia Tech and where he served 12 seasons as a high school head coach, 11 at Kecoughtan and one at Heritage.
"We are coming to that part of the state," Newsome said. "It just makes sense. … It's where I've been."
And while Division III schools do not award athletic scholarships, they do offer need-based and academic financial aid.
"So what you're looking for is that person that Virginia Tech or U.Va. or JMU or William and Mary wants to get as a recruited walk-on," Newsome said. "What you're selling is your small-school environment and (playing time). You can get out on the field a lot faster. … Those guys that are competitive don't like to watch."
Even during lean times, watching the Wasps is a passion for Emory and surrounding towns. The program was among Division III's top 12 nationally in home attendance each season from 2003-12, and while the NCAA hasn't released this season's rankings, Emory & Henry's average home crowd was a robust 4,547, up more than 500 from a year ago.
The Wasps' Fred Selfe Stadium is named for the coach who recruited Newsome to Emory & Henry, and the school opened a football support complex in a stadium end zone last year.
"Everyone in the state of Virginia may not know if Emory & Henry won or lost," Newsome said, "but in this corner of the world, everyone will know."
"He is stepping into a place where they can certainly do some damage down there," Kelchner said. "I saw them on tape early in the season (while scouting CNU opponents). They had some talent now."
Newsome is accustomed to talent. He was 95-35 in 12 seasons as a Peninsula District head coach and reached the playoffs six times, this long before the current foolishness of darn near everyone qualifying for postseason — Newsome's lone Heritage team went 9-1 and didn't make the playoffs.
His time at Virginia Tech included three ACC championships, with two playoff bids and the national title highlighting his stops at JMU. At age 55, Newsome views Emory & Henry as his final career destination, the more than 700-mile round trip for his mom notwithstanding.
"This job," he said, "will probably cost me a car."