2023 High School Football Preview: New Ashville coach hitting the ground running

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Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy 

By Chris McCarthy , Publisher/Editor

As far as Kirakias Shepard is concerned, the Ashville High football team’s season hinges on three things – numbers, numbers and numbers.
“Our nucleus is great; we really need to get as many kids out as we can,” said She-pard, a 2009 graduate of Pell City High School. He was the defensive coordinator for his alma mater last season.
“We just don’t have a lot of depth. There were a lot of kids who initially said they were going to play but then decided not to after the coaching change, and some of those kids can help us. So my goal is to give those kids a chance to know me and hopefully build a relationship and eventually get them out there.”
Accordingly, Shepard’s top short-term goal is supplementing the roster.
“My goal is to get 20 percent of the student body out there, which is roughly 15 to 20 more kids. Right now, we have about 30 kids on the roster. I would like to have about 60, so we’ve got some headway to make up. But I think we’ll get there.”
Shepard, who was hired in late June, replaces Shea Monroe, who went 13-17 in three seasons with the Bulldogs. Suffice to say, Shepard has hit the ground running due to his late hiring date.
“With me just starting a few weeks ago, I’m coaching the kids and at the same time, getting to know them. But our kids are responding great and soaking everything up, so that’s been impressive, for sure.”
Shepard noted that all of his starters will have to play on both sides of the ball, at least through the early portion of the schedule.
“We’d like that at least our linemen don’t have to go both ways, but obviously we’re not at the point yet. I told the guys on Day 1 that everyone will have two positions. It won’t always be that way. But right now, we’ve just got to play the hand that we were dealt and make the most of it.”
During his first week on the job, Shepard stayed behind the scenes and took notes while the assistant coaches ran the practices.
“That allowed me to just to observe the kids and get an idea of what they could and couldn’t do,” he said. “That time was vital in getting to know our kids. I’m also fortunate that I’ve inherited a very good staff. As much as it’s important for these kids to buy in to what I’m trying to do, it’s just as important for the coaches to buy in. And they have.”
Looking down the road, Shepard would like to see sustained success, which he feels starts at the middle school level.
“That’s going to be our foundation, and we’re going to put a lot of emphasis on those kids and invest a lot in them. That way, when they get to us, things will be second nature, so we won’t have to start behind the eight ball.”
In terms of core values, Shepard pointed to developing the habit of doing everything “the right way,” which he said includes success in the classroom and not getting in trouble while attending class.
“There is a certain way we’re going to practice and there is a certain way as coaches that we’re going to prepare in order to ensure success. If we do the little things the right way, we’ll get this thing turned around.”
Although Ashville went 2-8 last year, the 2020 and 2021 squads went 5-5 and 6-4, respectively.
“We definitely want to build on that,” said Shepard. “The talent is there; we just have to get it out and develop it.”
The Bulldogs’ 4A Region 6 rivals include Etowah, Good Hope, Oneonta, Fultondale, Hanceville and Cherokee County.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Shepard. “You’ve got three teams who year in and year out are, in some form or fashion, playing for [a state championship]. But my message to our guys is that whoever we’re going up against, we’re trying to get better every day. We’re approaching [the season] with the mindset of that if we’re not getting better, we’re getting worse. We’re going to put our best foot forward every Friday night, and hopefully we’ll like the results when the clock strikes zero.”
Shepard had already experienced a good deal of support from the community during the short time he’s been on the job.
“There’s a recipe to a program’s success, and one of the key ingredients in that recipe is community involvement,” he said. “People have been coming up to me all week and telling me that they’re willing to help out in any way, so I’m very excited for the opportunity to work with all these individuals.
“As far as the student body is concerned, I want the kids that go to Ashville to have pride in their school. If we can instill a sense of pride in our students, they’ll come out and support all of our sports teams.”

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