LORAIN — Dave McFarland never expected to be coaching at Lorain High at this stage of his life.
“I thought I’d be retired down south somewhere,” he said.
After being the head coach at Elyria Catholic, Berea and Oberlin, the Titans are happy he’s still around and McFarland is glad he delayed his dreams of a southern retreat.
McFarland has established Lorain as a Division I football power in his five years at Lorain — three playoff appearances — but success on the field isn’t what brings a smile to his face.
“Academically, we came in with zero kids ineligible,” he said. “We didn’t lose anybody from our varsity roster. (Athletic director) Mr. (Bryan) Koury told me the other day we average a 3.1 (GPA), so we’re really proud of that.”
Junior linebacker/safety and running back Savon Chavis has already locked up a scholarship to Ohio State based on his academics. Chavis has a 4.6 weighted GPA.
“I’ve got a full ride to Ohio State for academics already,” he said. “I’m looking to better myself as a football player because I already know I can go to one of the biggest colleges.”
“In the long run, if you’re doing all the right things, you’ve got kids that are reliable, high-character kids — they don’t make as many mistakes on the field,” McFarland said. “That’s why we talk a lot about our grades. We want our kids to go to college.”
McFarland is trying to reload the Titans for another run at the Lake Erie League title and hopefully another chance at the postseason, but first things first. He’s got some holes to fill from last year’s 8-3 team that lost a heartbreaking 31-28 first-round playoff game at Toledo Whitmer, who kicked the winning field goal as time expired.
“We’re searching,” he said. “We don’t really return a lot. When you think about it, you’ve got Nate (Melendez), the two linebackers (Kelvin Torres and Cairo Smith), Savon (Chavis) on defense and (Tyshawn) Lighty. On offense, we don’t return any starters except Daylin (Dower).”
Lorain’s freshman and junior varsity teams enjoyed success last year and the junior high programs are also doing well. McFarland has taken the time to build the program from the ground up.
“We’ve put a lot of stock in the seventh, eighth, ninth graders,” he said. “Trying to change the culture all the way down. You don’t just change it at one level.”
George Daniel Field may be 90 years old, but with a new turf field this year compliments of the Cleveland Browns, it has a refreshed look. The Titans will have to wait to unveil the new digs until Week 4 as they will be on the road at Midview, Euclid and Elyria to open the year before hosting Canadian teams in Weeks 4 and 5.
“It’s beautiful,” senior linebacker and fullback Cairo Smith said. “It’s pretty surreal. I’m not used to this turf because I’m used to playing on grass. It’s just something new.”
“It’s a blessing to have that,” junior tailback Daylin Dower said. “I feel like we have a lot more support than we’ve had. I see a lot more support — a lot more people coming out to help us. It’s a blessing.”
Dower has been a starter for two years. Last year he rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“We love the field,” Chavis said. “We loved the old field, but once the turf came in we just turned into a whole different team.”
“We’ve got a nice little dynasty going,” Smith said. “We just want to keep improving and building with each other. Game 1 against Midview is very important. I think we can conquer our schedule this year.”
“It’s all about the little things,” senior tight end and linebacker Nate Melendez said. “We’ve got to work hard and we’ve got to keep our eyes on the prize.”
Justin Sturgill, who won the Golden Helmet award as Lorain County’s top senior player, is one of those McFarland needs to replace. McFarland is hoping junior Jordan Jackson can handle the position. Jackson was a starter on Lorain’s state semifinal basketball team last year.
“We expect to do big things this year,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s working harder than they’ve ever worked before. Me starting as a sophomore going to the state final four in basketball, everything just carried over to football. I’ll have the ball in my hands every play. Coach McFarland trusts me to make decisions and call plays on the field.
“Our goal is to win Week 1.”
“My role is to always play hard, play fast,” senior linebacker Kelvin Torres said. “I want to set an example for the young kids who aren’t seniors. People who aren’t feeling it — if they see somebody going hard and fast — everybody will soon follow.”
Senior Zach Evans, a transfer from Elyria Catholic, is trying to win a position at wide receiver and outside linebacker. He’s excited to join the Titans. He said his new teammates welcomed him with open arms.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Can’t wait to get out there Week 1 and play. We’ve all created a bond. When I came here, there was no problems. We’re just ready to go.”
McFarland is old school when it comes to coaching football. The players respect him not only as a coach but as a teacher.
“I hope they said something about paying attention to detail,” he said. “Because that’s what we do. Go out with a purpose. We shut our mouths and just let our actions speak. In our scrimmage (on Tuesday against Glenville) a lot of our work paid off. We were just business-like. We just went out and played good football.”