Cornwell enters 30th season as football coach
Thirty years is a long time. It’s an age most young people fret turning. When we see a couple who’ve been married for 30 years, we are impressed. Likewise, when you spend 30 years in a profession, that is quite rare these days.
Paul Cornwell, the head football coach and athletics director at Ayden-Grifton High School, is entering his 30th season as a football coach, with the last 14 of those being at the helm of the Chargers. Before that, he was an assistant coach at North Pitt and was at Benedictine in Richmond, Va., as an assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
“I started off at Ayden-Grifton in 1987 and spent the next four seasons coaching the JV team and helping to scout our opponents on Friday nights,” Cornwell said. “I came back to Ayden-Grifton in 2004 when Coach Johnny Davis retired and a position at the school opened up. I spent that season as an assistant coach under coach B.T. Chappell and I became the head coach after he retired in 2005.”
Chappell won 120 games as the head coach of the Chargers. With four wins this season, Cornwell will become the all-time winningest coach in A-G history.
In addition to his coaching duties, Cornwell is the Region 1 Representative for the N.C. Athletic Directors Association Board of Directors and is the current president of the Eastern N.C. Football Coaches Association.
Under Cornwell, the Chargers have gotten the most out of their “small school” players. They have a record of 117-57 since he has taken over and have been in the playoffs every season. The highlight was the 2011 team that went 13-2 and made it to the state 1AA championship game.
Ironically, that's Cornwell's favorite memory to this point in his career.
“Although we lost in the finals to a really good Swain County team, 20-14, it was a great experience," he said. "That year we defeated traditional powers Southwest Onslow and Wallace-Rose Hill in the playoffs. Those are two of the biggest wins of my career."
He was also honored in 2016, after taking the Chargers to the state quarterfinals, by coaching in the East-West All Star Game.
A-G Principal Dr. Chena Cayton praised the Cornwell's efforts and what he has brought to the school.
“Coach Cornwell is well-respected within the Ayden-Grifton community," she said. "All of the football players who have played for Cornwell appreciate all they have learned from him, both on and off the field. They strive to please him and many of them are eager to come back to assist him when they graduate.
"They give back to the program that has given them a lot. This is part of our school’s efforts to ‘charge towards excellence.’“
Cornwell is living his dream. He grew up in Ayden and graduated from A-G in 1987 before going to ECU to pursue a degree in physical education and a master’s degree in school administration. He is married with two girls and still lives in his hometown.
“Having grown up in Ayden, this school is my home and our staff and students are like family to me. I love the impact that we have on our community every single day,” Cornwell said. “I would like for my legacy to be that I helped the young men that I have coached to be good husbands and fathers and for them to help our community grow stronger.”