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The Power of One: Appomattox County rallies around head coach Doug Smith during battle with cancer

Smith has led the Raiders to four state titles over the past five seasons.
Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT
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APPOMATTOX, Va. (WDBJ) - If you’re rattling off Virginia’s top high school football programs of the past decade, Appomattox County has to rank near the top of the list.

The Raiders won their first state championship in 2015 in Doug Smith’s fourth season as head coach. They’d go on to win titles the next two seasons, as well, adding a fourth ring in five years in 2019.

“Where he took that program from and where it’s at now, it just tells you that if you just listen to the wisdom that he has and the motivation that he gives you and the encouragement on all those little things that come along with it, that you can be greater than you ever think,” said Javon Scruggs, a safety at Liberty who played quarterback and defensive back for three of those title teams.

But before the quest for championship number five could even get started, everything changed.

“I think he started feeling some sort of pain around his midsection some time in February or March and for a while, he just thought it was a pulled muscle in the weight room,” said interim coach Stephen Castello. “So, as football coaches, you just kind of rest, deal with it, be a little limited, but it kind of stayed around.”

Smith was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells.

It was news that shook the team.

“When they first found out, it was the quietest 50 teenage boys ever could be for 15 minutes,” said Castello.

“We were all quiet, I was crying,” added senior Keyshawn Baker. “It hurt me to my core.”

Smith has remained physically apart from the team while undergoing treatment, but his presence has still been felt.

He dials into the games through a video feed, even breaking down film and coaching players from afar.

“Just because he’s sick and has to stay at home doesn’t mean he can’t do anything,” said Castello. “He wants to keep helping the kids, so he’s going to do whatever he can to still be a voice to them.”

“Just him being there supporting the guys even though he’s battling things, too, that really will show, if all the young guys really pay attention, that will really show them the type of warrior that he is,” said Scruggs, a senior at LU, “and that should just drive them to be even better than what they are.”

Support for Smith has come from far and wide, with billboards adorning the side of the highway and even signs of solidarity from the Raiders’ opponents throughout the season.

“I’ve never heard of an entire community, an entire family being one family,” said Baker. “Coach Smith helped bring us together with football, through football, through God and everyone just came together as a family.”

Smith’s road ahead won’t be easy. He’s set to receive a stem cell transplant early next week at Duke University Hospital.

But Smith has often spoke about the “power of one:” one team, one community, one fight—and the power of one coach to change all who he’s touched for the better.

“He’s basically like a superhero out there, or the mayor, or the president,” said Scruggs. “Whenever you hear Doug Smith, nobody has anything negative to say. I can guarantee you, they’re going to say how much he loves his football players, or he loves the fans and the community.”

“I think he means the world because they can see what he’s done for everyone - not just the football team, for the community,” said Baker. “He’s brought people together through God. He’s showed people what God can do for them and he just loves everyone unconditionally.”

“He’s a Christ follower, Christ leader,” added senior Bronson Williams. “He’s a big supporter and he can change people’s lives around here, and he has.”

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