High school football: Shepard hopes to lead resurgence at alma mater Meadowdale

The timeline Derrick Shepard and his football coaching friends Jerrold Gilbert and Doug Spears envisioned 10 years ago didn’t happen exactly the way they planned. They were coaching together in the Meadowdale peewee program when Gilbert floated the idea that they should coach these kids some day at Meadowdale High School.

Shepard thought the day to return to his alma mater might have arrived a few years ago when he was on the Ponitz staff and the Meadowdale job was available. But he didn’t get hired and joined the Alter staff as offensive line coach where his son played the past four years.

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Then Earl White, the former Belmont coach, resigned after last season at Meadowdale to become head coach at Chaminade Julienne. This time Shepard was hired as head coach and Spears as an assistant. Gilbert, however, died in late 2020.

“I’m a firm believer that God puts you in a certain situation to learn from it,” Shepard said. “But then if he feels that you’re worth it, it’ll come around again. And here we are today.”

Shepard, 47, played defensive line on winning teams at Meadowdale in the 1990s and followed that with a good career at Georgia Tech and 10 seasons of arena football, including a season each with the Dayton Warbirds and Miami Valley Silverbacks. He was also head coach of the Silverbacks in 2009 and 2011.

Dayton is home to Shepard and he wants to build a program at Meadowdale that will help reinvigorate and raise the profile of the Dayton City League. The Lions were 5-4 last year in White’s only season, which Shepard says is something to build on. The good news is that he has a roster that has grown to 47 and there are more boys in the school. But the Lions moved up from Division V to Division III.

When White resigned, Shepard said his Facebook inbox was flooded that day with over 20 messages from players asking him to be their coach. Most of them didn’t know him, but they knew his son Derrick who starred at Alter and is a freshman defensive tackle at Cincinnati.

“A lot of kids believe in what we’re doing,” Shepard said. “So they’re telling their friends, ‘Hey, you need to come out, there’s something good, we’ve got good coaches.’ And everybody’s starting to buy in. So that’s the start.”

Shepard said people already want to know how it’s going, how many games the Lions will win, etc. He said check back in three years, and if there are 80 players in uniform on Friday nights you will know the program is successful and keeping kids from leaving to play outside the city.

“My main goal is to turn boys into men and to teach them structure and discipline and help them to grow into great young men,” he said. “Every coach wants to win. But to me winning is to see these kids graduate and to do well in college and get high-paying jobs and just knowing that you have some kind of affect in their life.”

Dunbar leads the city comeback so far under James Lacking. The Wolverines were 4-3 in the regular season last year and qualified for the Division III playoffs as the No. 11 seed. Meadowdale has never qualified for the playoffs other than 2020 when every team was invited because of the COVID-shortened season.

When Shepard played at Meadowdale there were fewer divisions and far fewer playoff spots available. The teams he played for would make the playoffs now. Shepard says a return to those days for his team and others in the city is important to sustainable growth for each program.

“That would be very important because I think that will keep some of the kids in the city,” he said. “You have a lot of kids that go to the suburban schools because they have open enrollment. Once we get the ball rolling and start doing well, that will keep a lot of kids here in the city. And that will put the city of Dayton back on the map like it used to be.”

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