Former teammates face off as head coaches in opener

NEW MANCHESTER – The atmosphere at the Oak Glen Sports Complex should be electric Friday night when the Edison Wildcats invade to play the Oak Glen Golden Bears in what has been an exciting season opener for both teams during the past couple of years.

The emotions will run a lot higher than the normal season opener this year because one of the all-time best Oak Glen athletes, Derrick Stickles, returns to his alma mater not dressed in the gold and blue of the Golden Bears, but in the grey and black of the Wildcats.

There’s more to this storyline, though.

Ian Whittington, the second-year Golden Bear head coach, and Stickles are fast friends, having played football together and coached together at all levels of their careers beginning with pee wee football through college.

To boot, Roger Waialae, the head football coach at West Liberty University where both Stickles and Whittington played football and graduated, will be in the stands to lend his support.

For Stickles, it will be his first game as a high school head coach.

“We’ll have a lot of exciting things going on besides the buzz you get for any opener,” said Stickles, who was the offensive coordinator at Oak Glen last year in Whittington’s first season at the helm. “I can’t allow my emotions to work things, I want to make them work for me. I’m excited, but I want to stay focused on what we’re trying to do here at Edison.”

On the other side, Whittington said the two are good friends and always will be good friends.

“We’re good friends until the game starts Friday, but during that game, we’ll be enemies,” he said. “As soon as the whistle blows to end the game, we’ll be friends again.

“There will be high emotions as there are for the first game of the season. But with this coaching matchup it is even more exciting. I’m excited – excited and nervous – but I don’t want to let emotions get to me. We’re preparing for this game just as we do for every game.

“Derrick and I both know that it means a lot to start the season 1-0 rather than 0-1. It can be a huge moral victory for the players and coaching staffs. There is a lot riding on this game.”

The teams played each other the past two years as part of the OVAC Kickoff at Harding Stadium in Steubenville with the Golden Bears coming out on top in each game by close margins.

While it will be a homecoming of sorts for Stickles, he’s no stranger to Edison. After earning his degree at West Liberty, he began his coaching career as an assistant at Oak Glen under head coach Tony Filberto. Then he moved across the Ohio River as an assistant at Edison, and returned to his alma mater for the 2012 season.

“Even though I coached at Oak Glen last year, I never lost contact with the kids at Edison,” Stickles explained. “Ian needed an offensive coordinator last year and I felt I needed that bit of experience calling plays so we were together again, but most of the kids still are familiar with me here at Edison.”

While both coaches feel that Waialae had a great deal of influence upon them, Waialae feels the same way.

“When Derrick came to West Liberty as a running back, I was the offensive coordinator,” Waialae said. “Then, he was in the backfield for the first couple of years I was head coach and we had a lot of success.

“And then Ian transferred from Bethany to West Liberty and also had leadership qualities as our free safety.

“I could tell back then that their leadership capabilities would lead them into coaching, but I also knew they were the type of kids who would be successful in whatever they chose to do. Both had that work ethic and commitment with a common goal of winning.

“I know that the kids who play for Derrick and Ian will learn that work ethic from them and learn to be outstanding persons for the rest of their lives.

“I’ll be there to watch the game Friday night, but I can’t participate in any way because of NCAA regulations. But I wouldn’t miss it.”