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Achieving the dream

Former WR player now Blue Devils’ head coach

Submitted photo New Western Reserve football coach Jason Lude, right, was an assistant coach at Salem for 12 seasons. Lude played football at Western Reserve.

Being the football coach at Western Reserve High School has long been the goal for Jason Lude, but he wasn’t sure if he was cut out for it.

He played for the Blue Devils and had a solid career. He started coaching right after high school ended and hasn’t stopped, but Lude just didn’t really feel like he was quite ready to be a head coach.

That changed a few years ago when the Salem assistant coach was in charge of the Quakers’ offensive line.

“I always felt that a couple years doing offensive line helped more than anything,” he said. “Getting five guys to be as selfless as anything, that’s the goal of a head coach — to get a group of 50 individuals to do the same thing. When I got done coaching offensive line, that was the first time in my life where I was like, ‘I really think I can do this head coaching thing.’ ”

He gets his chance at his “dream” destination.

The 2008 Western Reserve graduate is taking over during under odd circumstances. Longtime Blue Devils coach Andy Hake did not have his contract renewed after he was accused of vaping THC on school grounds in January. David Rach took over in April but then stepped down in June for personal reasons.

So, Lude, hired in mid-June, is the third coach in the past six months for one of the area’s most successful high school football teams, and he couldn’t be happier about it. His excitement has more to do with the team than him reaching a longtime goal.

“The kids have been amazing,” he said. “I talked to every coach that’s kind of come before me at Western Reserve (as of recently), from Mike Kopachy to Bob Topoleski to Andy Hake himself and even coach Rach. I wouldn’t have taken the job without talking to all those guys, and every one of them echoed the same thing, ‘We have great kids in Berlin Center.’ That’s been proven 10-fold since I’ve gotten the job.

“I was a little nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect as the third head coach in six months,” he added. “From Day 1, they’ve really bought in to what we’re doing. They’re working hard. They know it’s changed, but change can be a good thing.”

Lude is pretty used to change.

He coached nearly every position on the field during a 12-year coaching stint at Salem under Ron Johnson, a mentor he credits for putting him in this position. He was supposed to coach freshmen his first year with the Quakers but was thrusted into a varsity position.

The former running back and linebacker for the Blue Devils eventually mainly worked with the offense at Salem, but with Johnson handling much of those duties himself, Lude moved to defense — in large part to better groom himself to become a head coach. He coached defensive line, defensive backs and linebackers before being promoted to defensive coordinator a few months ago.

All of it made leaving Salem difficult, but Lude couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“I told Ron in wanted to be a head coach, specifically at Western Reserve,” said Lude of when he first started coaching with Johnson. “That seemed like an unrealistic goal at the time, but he said he would do anything in his power to help me get there.

“… There were ups and downs, for sure. Like anything, there’s times where you’re like, ‘Why am I getting moved here?’ or ‘Why am I getting moved there?’ Now I look back, and I think it was all part of his plan to keep his word and get me ready for this job.”

Lude is still determining what type of offense and defense he will run.

He said he would like to gather more information on the skill-sets of his players before making that determination. His opportunity to evaluate the Blue Devils has been limited because of the pandemic, but he said he is gaining more perspective each day.

Western Reserve is coming off an 8-2 season in which they reached the OHSAA playoffs.

“They’re excited,” he said. “I think everyone is just ready for football to be here. We’re ready to put everything else that happened behind and march forward with football.”

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