Billy Noonan is no stranger to success at St. Pius X, having won state championships as its quarterback in 2006 and 2007.
Now, he’s back and trying to lead the Panthers to heights not seen since that 2007 season.
“It’s nice to be back,” said Noonan, a first-time head coach whose previous stops include Tomball and New Caney as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “The buck stops here. Usually I’ve been on the other side of the chain of command, but now I’m the last line here. It’s a bit weird being the final stop and not the first stop. If something’s wrong, it’s on me.”
For a team accustomed to overwhelming depth in recent years, this season will be one of discovery. The departures of Grant Gunnell, Chase Lane, Boobie Curry and others have left the Panthers with just two returning starters.
“There are goals that were accomplished when it came to what this team and this school wanted and sought out,” Noonan said. “I need to get 50 guys who have not been a priority on Friday nights ready to go for that spotlight. It’s different when there’s nobody to come in and say, ‘Fix it.’ You’re the guy. That’s going to take a little bit of time and transition.”
But despite the personnel change, Noonan doesn’t anticipate a style change.
“The biggest change would be learning how these guys coach and learning how they think about the game,” he said. “Scheme might not be something I’m used to, but if it puts our guys in the best place to succeed, it’s full speed ahead. We’re still building that.”
The two returning seniors from last year’s team, linebacker Jagger Pagano and lineman Brayden Benys, will play all over the offensive and defensive lines. They also will be looking to spearhead a relatively inexperienced squad.
“They’ve been in the fire and played in those hard-fought games and had great wins and tough losses. They need to show the way on the field,” Noon said. “We just don’t have the experience facing or interacting with adversity at that pressure-filled level yet.”
Among Noonan’s imparted lessons from his experience are those from his freshman year as a player, when the Panthers started 1-5 before making a run to the state-title game.
He hopes to lead St. Pius X back to the pinnacle of private-school football.
“Sometimes, it’s about going through that fire. You’ve got to learn something in those hard-fought battles,” he said. “I’m excited to see how we all respond to these challenges. You can always make a run at the end.”
Noonan and the Panthers kick off their season with an Aug. 30 home game against Beaumont United.