ON THE ROAD AGAIN

in Football

Hoping to restore the historical legacy of the Jacket swarm, Class 2A, DII Meridian Yellowjackets travel to Itasca for opener as new head coach faces former team

MERIDIAN – Refusing to give up and accept moving down to play six-man football in 2022, the proud Meridian Yellowjacket football program chose to opt up and play on the 11-man gridiron despite diminishing enrollment numbers.

To get the job done, Meridian turns to veteran head coach and athletic director Jim Kerbow with 21 years of coaching experience and five seasons as a football head coach. Without posting a winning record since 2016, the Meridian Yellowjackets will be undergoing their third football head coaching change in four years and seeking their first playoff berth in five seasons.

“I chose Meridian because I feel like there is an opportunity to turn around the athletic programs,” Kerbow said. And I’m excited about the opportunity to do great things here in the future.”

As the Jackets prepare to open the 2022 Texas high school football season this week, they will be hitting the road for the third straight time. But after traveling to play two scrimmages as dress rehearsals, making a road trip to Itasca to take on the Wampus Cats at 7:30 p.m. Friday will be special for Kerbow.

In fact, it will be sort of a homecoming. After all, Kerbow served as the Itasca football head coach over the last three years.

“It does have some added meaning for me personally,” Kerbow said. “However, this is a big game for our program. If we can go out and be successful this week and continue to build on our confidence over the next several weeks, it will be a great turn around for the Meridian Football Program.”

Despite only winning one game last season, Itasca has 18 returning lettermen with eight offensive and nine defense starters back. New head coach Ricky Torres hopes to build on the experience the Wampus Cats gained last year under Kerbow. Quarterback Buddy Jackson returns as the signal caller, surrounded by young but experienced players at all the skill positions.

Make no mistake about it, the Jackets have taken strides in the right direction while growing up on the gridiron over the last three seasons. Although Meridian has not qualified for the postseason since 2017, the Jackets have a rich Texas high school football tradition dating back to 1916 – four seasons before the University Interscholastic League even existed.

While posting an impressive all-time 537-401-36 win-loss-tie record for a .570 winning percentage, the Jackets have qualified for the postseason 26 times and won 16 district titles.

But that was then, and this is now.

Inheriting a football program that has posted a dismal 5-34 win-loss record over the last four seasons with a 2-17 district mark, Kerbow realizes that his coaching staff has its work cut out for them. But that has not prevented the new Jacket head coach from setting the bar high.

Following the bi-annual UIL realignment last February, Meridian moved to District 10-2A, Division II to compete against the likes of perennial powerhouse and third-ranked Mart, along with 20th-ranked Wortham, Hico, Dawson, Hubbard and Frost.

“My expectations of our football team is to win at least five games and make the playoffs,” Kerbow said. “Obviously, District 10-2A is a very tough district. Mart is the team to beat because they are one of the premier programs in the state. But I believe if we can create buy-in, we can compete for the third or fourth seed. There are several teams that we feel that we can compete with in the district.”

After Meridian struggled to move the ball offensively against a talented Valley Mills squad in the first scrimmage, Kerbow saw marked improvement in the Jackets during the final tune-up scrimmage at Chico last Thursday.

“We did improve a lot this past week in our scrimmage,” Kerbow said. “Being a scrimmage, we played our base offense and defense. We felt like the kids executed well, and we feel like we are progressing at a good pace, which should make Week One exciting.”

With a new coach installing a new system, there’s always an adjustment period for the players. But after three weeks of work and two scrimmages, Kerbow enters the season pleased with the progress his players have made.

“The kids have really bought into the offense and defense,” Kerbow said. “We are probably

 ahead of where we thought we would be for the first game. We are really excited about our players’ effort. We fly to the ball and are physical on offense and defense.”

With seven offensive and seven defensive returning starters for Meridian, the cupboards will not be empty. But depth will continue being an issue for the Jackets as they field low numbers. Evem though the Jackets bring back strong numbers with varsity experience representing a team strength, depth at all positions will remain a concern.

“Meridian has a lot of talent at the skill positions,” Kerbow said. “We must get kids in the right positions and build their confidence.”

Sophomore Matthew Jones will take over at quarterback with senior running backs Brady Taylor and Dustan Bowers joining him in the Jacket offensive backfield. Primary passing targets will be seniors Gauge Chandler, Alejandro Rodriguez, Daunte Crawford and junior Brayden Wehmeyer. Junior John Wyatt will anchor the offensive line.

Despite suiting up only 23 players for Meridian’s first scrimmage at Valley Mills, the Jackets held their own at times, particularly on defense. With 12 returning lettermen, the Meridian defensive linebacker corps consist of Taylor, Bowers and Chandler, while Rodriguez, Crawford, Wehmeyer and Jones man the defensive backfield.

“We thought our kids played hard,” Kerbow said. “Valley Mills is very talented, and we felt like our kids played with them the majority of the scrimmage. We felt like the defense tackled well, our kids flew to the ball, that was encouraging.

“We felt like our offense executed well. We haven’t installed the entire offense, so we still have a lot of work to do. To be successful offensively, we will need to be physical up front and at the point of attack. We will take advantage of what the defense gives us and capitalize on those on that. On defense, if we will continue to be physical and not give up the big plays, we will be successful.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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