The first week of Ed Ashwell's new life could be described as a culture shock that failed to catch him completely off guard.
Coaches like to be prepared. And Ashwell, the first-year football coach at Glenelg High School, expected his new job to contrast with the previous 10 years he spent at Wilde Lake.
As an assistant at Wilde Lake, Ashwell grew accustomed to the taste of success. He watched dozens of the county's more talented players pass through the program, producing league titles routinely. As theWildecats' defensive coordinator, Ashwell left his fingerprints on the state-title teams of 1985 and 1990.
Now, back at his alma mater-- he played at Glenelg and graduated from there in 1976 -- Ashwell hopes to begin carving out a new mark in a program that occasionally has approached the county's elite, but has usually toiled in mediocrity.
When Dennis Cole stepped down after nine years last fall, he left behind a respectable 44-46 career record that included only threelosing years and a memorable 1985 season. That year, the Gladiators beat Wilde Lake to earn a share of the county championship.
Ashwell's goal is clear. He wants to take the Gladiators to heights he enjoyed.
As he surveyed the team he could finally call his own during a practice last week, Ashwell sounded like a coach looking forward with confidence, but with an eye still glancing wistfully in the rear-view mirror.
"It's not the same (as Wilde Lake), but I knew that coming in. I'm spoiled. Who wouldn't be with the types of athletes I had?" says Ashwell, 32, his voice carrying a touch of hoarseness.
"Ilost my voice the first day (of practice, Aug. 15) -- not from yelling at the kids, but from trying to get them enthused," he adds. "There's not exactly a whole lot of talent here, and we've got a lot of work to do, but I like what I see. I'm happy with their work ethic. I think the kids believe in what we're trying to do."
What Ashwell isattempting is an overhaul of the program. He is changing the Gladiators' offensive and defensive philosophies. He is trying to erase any lingering perceptions that losing and .500 seasons are acceptable. Hesees victories as magnets that will draw more talented players into the school's football family. And he is working with an infusion of more new coaching blood to make that happen.
Ashwell will handle the defense, although he admits the wrinkles in his 5-2 alignment will bear little resemblance to the ones he employed at Wilde Lake. "No speed," he says. "We're not going to outrun anybody. I have to design the defense around the speed we have."
Offensive coordinator Dean Sheridan is another newcomer, although Sheridan is only four years removed from a successful five-year stint as a junior varsity coach at Glenelg.
For the past 10 days, Sheridan has been introducing a "broken wishbone" offense. He says the offense is based on new terminology and formations, and will steer the Gladiators away from the pass-oriented attack of years past to an offense devoted equally to running.
In addition, Jeff Kent, a first-year coach and graduate of Frostburg State, has been hired as a varsity line coach. On the junior varsity level, Rick Kincaid returns to run the team, as does Gene Curtis to coach the receivers. Steve Martinec, who quarterbacked Glenelg to its last county title in 1985, rejoins the program as the offensive coach.
"The first few days, we ran them hard. We've been dogging them," says Ashwell, who had 35 varsity and 50 junior varsity players working out last week. "I wanted to find out who would stay and who would go. Everybody stayed. They're all hanging in, because they want to win. It won't come easy.
"We're running a little behind now, because they are taking in so much new information," he says. "We're doing a lot more teaching at this point than we do at Wilde Lake."
Sheridan adds, "We spent an hour in the classroom earlier this week. There was no silliness, no talking at all. Can you imagine a bunch of football players behaving like that? They know we're worth listening to."
"They're pushing us more," says senior Jamie Brown, a second-year varsity lineman. "We were more laid-back last year. This year, everything is push, push, push. Nobody fools around.
"It's hard switching coaches," he adds. "In the beginning, we were wondering how this was going to be. But we've got somebody who led a team to a state championship teaching us."
Senior Joe Goldberg, a second-year varsity running back/linebacker, agrees. "I didn't think he (Ashwell) would leave Wilde Lake to come here," he says. "We knew he had played at Glenelg, and I personally think it's good that we got somebody who played here. The first day of practice, we got right into it. There's no time to mess around."
Ashwell feels uncomfortable making projections about Glenelg, although he allows himself a prediction: The Gladiators could win a county championship in three years. For now, he'llaccept modest, short-term gains.
"If we can go 5-5 or 4-6 this year, we'll be OK. But I'm not used to that," he says.
When he isn'tbrooding over a defeat or celebrating a victory or preparing for thenext opponent, Ashwell also will spend his first season adjusting tolife in the head coach's seat. The nights will be longer, the work harder than ever.
"I'm nervous about winning football games. My biggest fear is not winning any," Ashwell says. "I wonder if I can be asgood a head coach as Doug (DuVall) is. He was the best teacher anybody could have.
"Now, I'm in control. Am I ready? After 10 years asan assistant, I owe it to myself to find out."