KEYSER - Derek Stephen has been named head football coach at Keyser High School.
By Chapin Jewell
KEYSER - Sometimes in life, the stars align in your favor and a dream becomes reality.
One year ago, long-time Keyser assistant football coach Derek Stephen applied for but wasn’t selected for the head football coaching position at nearby Hampshire High School. As a lifelong Golden Tornado, the ultimate goal, of course, was to someday become the head coach at Keyser High School.
While there was initial disappointment, fate would ultimately intervene in Stephen’s favor.
“At the time, people were telling me, there’s a reason for that. Nobody knew at the time that Coach Biser was going to leave, and then this job came open, and it was like, alright, the stars are aligning now. I didn’t get that job for a reason,” Stephen explained.
According to Stephen, “I didn’t think Coach Biser was going to leave but then this job came open. It was a no brainer to apply for it. I think the stars aligned and it worked out in my favor, and gave me the opportunity to be the coach here.”
Having the stars align in one’s favor is not typically happenstance. Generally speaking, good things happen to those who work the hardest and pay their dues. Derek Stephen worked hard, paid his dues, and most importantly did what he had to do to gain the full faith and confidence of the departing Coach Biser, his fellow assistant coaches, Keyser administration and as is evidenced in the many positive social media comments, the community at large.
“Being the head coach at Keyser means so much. In recent years, it’s been that milestone that I wanted to achieve. Just having the opportunity to do that is amazing, because Coach Biser is still relatively young and I didn’t think the chance was going to come for another 10, 15 or 20 years,” Stephen explains.
“Having this chance now to lead a team that I played for, coached for, and watched from the time I was little. I can remember going to Stayman Field to watch games there.Being able to do that and being a part of this football community that goes back 100 years, you can’t even explain it, it’s an amazing feeling,” Stephen stated.
Stephen began his playing career at Keyser in 2001 as a freshman. As a sophomore, Stephen played both at inside linebacker and fullback. As a junior, he was moved to offensive guard and then to outside linebacker. These first three seasons were played under then head coach Tom Preaskorn.
“Then I played as a senior on Coach Biser’s very first team here. My senior year, 2004, is when he came to Keyser. As a senior, I was an outside linebacker and moved back to the backfield as a wingback,” Stephen explains.
According to Stephen, “One of my most memorable moments as a player was the ‘Mud Bowl’ my senior year playing against Frankfort. The field was so muddy you couldn’t tell who was who, you could barely tell who was Black and Gold and who was Blue and White. It was just a great game.”
In Stephen’s four years as a player in the Golden Tornado football program (2001-2004), Keyser had a combined record of 30-16, but more importantly, the Black and Gold made three playoff appearances, three in a row in fact, his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
After graduation, it was on to Shepherd University to continue his education. While there Stephen accepted a job as a student trainer. “That’s where I originally found that being on the sidelines at football games and other sporting events, and seeing how the coaches interacted, made me feel that this might be something that I’d like to do,” Stephen stated.
According to Stephen, “In 2009, right as I was getting ready to graduate, Coach Biser reached out and requested that I join the staff. So after four years at Shepherd, I came back and started at Keyser as a lowly auxiliary coach, and then went from being an assistant to an assistant to working my way up to where I am now.”
Three years into his coaching gig in 2011, Stephen became Keyser’s defensive coordinator, a position he’s remained in ever since.
As for the head coach position, “I was one of the very first people to know that Coach Biser was leaving long before it even became a rumor around town. He was very open in saying that he wanted me for the job and that I should apply for it and take it,” Stephen explained.
Make no mistake about it, in replacing Biser, Stephen has giant shoes to fill. In Biser’s 16 seasons at the helm in Keyser, the Black and Gold compiled an overall record of 127-58, making the playoffs in 14 of those 16 seasons, to include the last nine consecutively. In those 14 years of playoff appearances, Keyser reached the state championship game in 2012 against Wayne, to the second round eight times, and the first round five times.
Along the way, Biser established or re-established Keyser’s reputation as a hard-nosed, well-coached team that would largely take on all comers in the Mountain State. Maintaining that hard-nosed, run from no one mentality is important to Stephen, but of course he plans on adding his own stamp as well.
“The main thing that I want to keep the same is our blue collar mentality. The way our kids work hard, and hit people, that’s the physical play that Keyser is known for. We had that back when I played under Preaskorn and Biser, and I think that’s something that sets us apart from most programs in the state. That’s something I’m definitely going to try and keep, and try to even expand upon if I’m able to,” Stephen stated.
According to Stephen, “In terms of things to bring into the program, I’ve had some ideas but there’s nothing right now that’s going to be a huge change. We’re going to be running the same style of defense and the same style of offense. It’s not broke, so why fix it. One of the big things I’m known for though is my energy. I’m the one on the sidelines that’s bouncing up and down and yelling and screaming, trying to get the kids energized. If anything, that’s something I’ll try to bring to all the coaches and all the players, to up that energy level and have that intensity and swagger that comes with being who we are.”
Looking towards the start of his first season at the helm in August, Stephen is able to assess what he perceives to be strengths and weaknesses heading into the season.
“Our strength will be our skill guys, we’re returning a lot of them. Of course, Drae Allen is going to be a four year starter for us at fullback, Zion Powell who toted the ball for us a lot last year, they’re both coming back and they’re both pretty good with the ball in their hands. Gavin Root has been a player for us, he’s going to be back. Our line is probably where we’re going to be a little young, a little green, and wet behind the ears. But I have confidence in my coaches that they’ll get those guys ready to roll no matter what,” Stephen explains.
Derek Stephen attended Keyser High School football games as a child at Stayman Field then grew to strap on the Black and Gold for himself for four years, enjoying a successful high school football career on some very solid teams. After college, he returned to what he loved and joined the Golden Tornado program as a coach, started with low level assignments, and from 2009 until now, worked his way up to defensive coordinator and now head coach.
Keyser High just hired a Keyser guy that’s paid his dues and developed a high level of confidence from those around him that he can do the job. After all, he’s always done the job, and done it well, all the while with a passion and particularly an energy level unrivaled.
Derek Stephen said it himself, the stars have aligned. They have a way of doing that for the right people at the right time.