At a team meeting last Friday, John Douglass posed a simple question to his players: Who wants to be successful?
Meridian High School’s new head football coach said that will mean more than wins and losses this year. Taking over a program that has struggled the last few years compared to how it traditionally and historically has fared, Douglass wants to focus this season on the rebuilding process in hopes of restoring Wildcat football back to Mississippi high school football glory.
That football glory was ever-present in 1985 when Douglass played offensive lineman for the state championship winning Wildcats. He graduated from the school in ‘87 and served as an assistant coach for the 1993 and ‘94 seasons.
More recently, Meridian went 21-18 the past three seasons under previous coach Calvin Hampton, including a 4-7 record last year in which they missed the playoffs.
“My idea of Meridian (football) is what it was the last time I was here,” Douglass said. “I had the same perception of what a lot of people had around the state about Meridian football. Obviously I had heard that it was down a little bit.”
Defensive line coach Demetrius Hill played alongside Douglass at Meridian as a linebacker on its ‘85 team. He said it will take a while for the program to get to where it was, but that its new coach is taking the right steps.
“It’s going to take a little time,” Hill said. “It’s going to be a rebuilding process, and I think he’s doing a great job trying to turn it in the right direction.”
Douglass was hired on June 20 to replace Martez Edwards — Hampton’s replacement — who was terminated after only six months on the job when an inappropriate photo of him appeared on social media. Douglass will have had just over two months to prepare his team for a tough regular season schedule when the Wildcats kick off the year against Northeast Lauderdale, a program for which Douglass served as head coach last year. The Trojans went 7-5 and reached the second round of the playoffs in his first and only season.
Now back at his alma mater, Douglass said he first wanted to evaluate his new squad.
“I really wanted to come in and try to figure out where we were as a football team and try to start building on that,” he said. “I think we have a long way to go. But that being said, the kids that are here are working hard, and they’re doing everything we ask.”
Douglass said he is setting a new standard at Meridian of what the community and the school expects out of the team. He wants their definition of success to stretch beyond scorelines.
“We want kids to be, from a football perspective, hard-nosed and disciplined. But we want to represent our community with class and with dignity, and something that the community can be proud of regardless of the wins and losses,” he said. “I believe that if we get those kids that really care about representing their school or representing their community in that manner, the wins will take care of themselves.”
Douglass’s strategy this season will be centered on running the ball and being physical, but it will ultimately be about improving.
“It may not happen overnight, but we just need to be sure that we’re a better football team each and every time that we walk out of the field house,” he said. “I want a football team that goes out onto the field and will play as hard as they can play for 48 minutes and that will fight until the end.”
Hill said Douglass understands its a journey.
“He’s doing the right things. He’s not coming in being all arrogant and cocky like he knows everything,” Hill said. “He realizes that it’s a process, and we have to work this process out to get (this program) back again to where it used to be.”