STEPHENS CITY — Though he’d had just one official practice under his belt as of Friday afternoon, new Sherando football coach Jake Smith certainly feels at home blowing the big whistle.
“It’s a blast,” Smith said of taking over the program. “I love it. I enjoy every second of it. It’s a great job and a great place. I have a great staff. Every day I wake up excited. Our kids are great kids. They are full of energy. That keeps things going. It’s fantastic.”
Smith has some pretty big shoes to fill. After four years as an assistant coach, he takes over for Bill Hall, who never had a losing season, won 150 games and took the Warriors to a pair of runner-up state finishes in 18 seasons at the helm. Hall resigned in May to take a newly created administrative position.
Smith admits he was a somewhat surprised at the turn of events that landed him his new post.
“I thought that was something that Bill had aspirations of at some point in time,” he said. “I just didn’t know when that was going to be. It just happened to be a lot faster than I had anticipated.”
But Smith, who came highly recommended by Hall, was ready for the challenge. Smith played quarterback and tight end at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania., from 2008 to 2011. Smith had stints as an assistant coach in Derry Area, Pennsylvania, (2012), Redbank Valley, Pennsylvania, (2013-2014) and Brooke Point in Stafford (2015-2017) before coming to Sherando in 2017.
He was Hall’s defensive coordinator before assuming the head coaching position. He hopes to continue what Hall has accomplished.
“Sherando has great tradition,” Smith said. “We have great community support. It’s a great, great place to be. We’re going to continue to build upon the strong foundation that’s already been laid here.”
Senior quarterback Dylan Rodeffer said the Warriors are ready to make that happen. He says there is a different vibe this season around the program.
“There’s kind of a new energy because we are ready for a new chapter,” Rodeffer said. “It’s just something we haven’t seen before. We’re really pumped up and ready to play out there for Coach Smith.”
Smith certainly has an excellent turnout of players to evaluate. He said Friday that approximately 91 players are out for the varsity and JV programs, including a whopping 36 freshmen. The turnout is welcomed after the numbers were much smaller than usual during the four-game spring season for Frederick County schools that was delayed and limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Coming off the spring season where the numbers were down, we were unsure what the fall would bring,” Smith said. “I’m excited to see all of those kids get out and get back involved in athletics in general, not specifically football.
“With last year being abbreviated, it was kind of like a tease for our kids,” he added. “We started getting into a routine and we were playing games with very short turnarounds. It kind of made for a small, congested season. They were out participating and were active in the sport and then it seemed like it was over very fast.”
But Smith knew regardless of the fall turnout, he had some dedicated players that would be ready when practice opened Thursday.
“Those guys were itching and rearing to go,” Smith said. “After our last game, the very next morning at 6 a.m., we had a group in lifting weights. They were ready to go and eager to get started, so things are transitioning very nicely into the fall.”
“I’m pumped, man,” said Rodeffer. “It’s been a long time coming. Playing in the fall, it’s been about two years. I’m looking forward to it.”
Smith said his biggest adjustment this far has been some of the administrative things that go along with being the head coach.
“There’s a lot of added responsibilities,” he said. “There’s a lot of managerial things involved as well that takes you away from the actual game itself, the Xs and Os, but it is great. I’m very fortunate to be in the position that I am in, to be in the school that I’m in, to work with the administration that I have. I have a wonderful group of my assistants that I think are going to do a great job for me this year.”
His staff will have a new look. Former Sherando and Christopher Newport standout Taylor Loudan will take over as defensive coordinator. Steven Crist will serve as the assistant head coach. Nick Manuel is on the offensive line and new hire Trey Blandford will work with both lines.
Smith will take over from Hall in guiding the offense.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve taken over defensive coordinator responsibilities,” Smith said. “That was something that was completely new. I was an offensive coordinator at Brooke Point previously to that. I’m just getting back to some of my roots on the offensive side of the ball and working with the quarterbacks.”
Hall worked many hours with his quarterbacks during his tenure, but now those players look to someone new.
“It is a little strange because ever since I’ve been at Sherando I’ve been working with Coach Hall,” Rodeffer said. “I really look up to him. Coach Smith is really filling in his role well getting us prepared for the season.”
Smith hinted that there may be a few new wrinkles for opposing defenses, too.
“I think you will see a lot of things that will look reminiscent of Sherando football and you’ll see some things that are different and new that are not typical of us in the last couple of years,” he said.
The Warriors are looking forward to returning to Northwestern District play, something they missed last season. They open on Aug. 27 at Arrowhead Stadium against James Wood, the lone team to beat them in the spring. Prior to that, Sherando has scrimmages at Independence (Aug. 13) and at home with George Mason (Aug. 20).
Smith likes the core group of playmakers he has returning and is looking for new faces to break into the lineup.
“I’m just hoping these guys have the ability to reach their potential,” he said of his preseason focus. “We’re very young in a lot of places and we have to develop some players. As long as those guys get one percent better every day, which is what we talk about, I think we will be in good shape.”
The players are optimistic, too.
“I think is everyone is 100 percent in,” Rodeffer said. “We’re all ready to go. I think we’re going to win a lot of football games and show everyone what Sherando football is really about. For two years, they’ve been waiting to actually see us and now we’re ready to show them.”