MINERAL RIDGE - Doug Velasquez saw the fervor around the high school on Fridays.
Velasquez, 42, is in his first year as a special education aid at Mineral Ridge Middle School. He's close to having his licence in that field.
Velasquez, literally, will walk on the sidelines of E.Z. Whittaker Field as the new Mineral Ridge football coach - replacing Joe Stevens.
"Special place on Fridays," said Velasquez, who was an assistant coach at Boardman last season and a 1989 Boardman graduate. "Everybody is decked out in black, from the principal to teachers to the kids. There's a lot of community spirit. They have a good football program."
Velasquez also has served as an assistant coach at Beaver Local, Salem, Springfield Local and Struthers.
Weathersfield School Superintendent Damon Dohar is excited to have Velasquez as the new coach.
"He has great leadership qualities," Dohar said. "At this point and time, it was a tough decision. Doug has a wealth of football knowledge. He's a natural leader and it's about time he's leading a football team. He's got a plan and he's organized.
"We're excited to have Doug on board and we think he'll do well this year."
Last season, the Rams finished 6-4 and just missed making the playoffs in Division VI, Region 21.
Mineral Ridge - which should be one of the top teams in the Inter-Tri County League next season - is returning a very strong senior class led by Devine Redding, who had 110 carries for 1,100 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Quarterback Jonathan Baker was 58 of 139 for 1,212 yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Steven Phillips was the team's leading receiver with 450 yards with 11 catches and five TDs.
Defensively, Phillips had three interceptions and Josh Goss led with 116 tackles and had five sacks.
"We had some good teams here in the past," said Mineral Ridge Athletic Director Darren Garris, who added 11 candidates applied for the job. "I think we have a lot of talent coming back. We had a decent season this year. All the candidates that applied for the job. They knew they had some talent coming back. We're looking some who can take the talent and continue the program in a positive direction."
Velasquez, who is a head coach for the first time, said he is 80-90 percent set on his assistants. He said his staff is likely to be set in the next week to 10 days with assistants he's coached with from Struthers, Beaver Local and other stops in his assistant coaching career.
Next week, Mineral Ridge starts preparation for the 2013 season.
"I'm excited to meet these guys on Monday," Velasquez said. "We'll start work on Tuesday in the weight room."