The scoreboard read "32-18," and it wasn't good news for the Lorain Titans.
On Sept. 3, the Titans were 0-2 after their loss to Elyria but their coach wasn't fazed. Dave McFarland had faith in his senior leaders and the rest of the team. His philosophy is to empower the ones who throw the passes, run the ball and make the tackles, and it was only a matter of time until they'd seize the opportunity that was still in front of them.
"Mac 100 percent empowers kids," Lorain assistant coach Eddie Hall said. "He tells them it's up to you guys. It doesn't matter how much I want it, it doesn't matter how much the coaches want it. What matters is how much the players want it. And I'm here to support you in no matter what you guys want to do. I'm here to help you be as great as you want to be and you guys show me."
Lorain won the following week, 48-0. The next week was the same result. And the next and the next and the next. The wins just kept coming, and the Titans moved closer and closer to unchartered territory.
For leading the Titans through one of the best seasons in Lorain history, McFarland has been named the 2016 Cleveland Browns High School Coach of the Year.
During a meeting at the team's facility this afternoon, Head Coach Hue Jackson surprised McFarland through the team's "10 Days of Giving" initiative with the news that he would represent the Browns as Cleveland's Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year nominee. As the local honoree, McFarland will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the 2017 Pro Bowl in Orlando, courtesy of the NFL and the Browns, and can earn an additional $15,000 in grants for Lorain High School's football program and a $10,000 award if named the NFL's national recipient.
"It's not cliché, but when you say selfless, it's McFarland. He just wants to coach," Hall said. "He doesn't want any of the credit. It's not 'I had this plan' or 'we as coaches had this or that,' it's 'the kids responded' or 'the kids did this.'
"The interesting thing is that this man has no ego. He wouldn't care if anybody knew he was coaching Lorain, just that Lorain was doing well. He'd probably be happier if it was that way. We as coaches try to learn from him. When we falter, he doesn't."
Ultimately, Lorain's 2016 season was its best in program history.
The Titans finished the regular season with eight straight victories to win their first outright league championship and scored their first-ever playoff victory in their first-ever home playoff game, a 34-14 rout of Lewis Center Olentangy. It was a magical year that ended all the way in the Division I Regional Finals, where the Titans fell, 24-20, to top-seeded Olentangy Liberty.
It was a season that united not just the students at Lorain High, but the entire Lorain community.
"It was such a special thing this year," Hall said. "People were so excited. We've never been around a time in Lorain where people were proud to be from Lorain. Normally It's like 'yeah, I'm from Lorain,' but this year it was 'Yeah! I'm from Lorain!' This wasn't just kids, it was people who were outside of the football team wanting more Lorain stuff, coming to the games, asking how can we support you."
McFarland, a veteran coach with experience at the top level at Berea, Oberlin, Midpark and his alma mater Elyria Catholic, was hired at Lorain in 2014. He "blew away" the school's leaders with his plans to build the program from the ground up while maximizing the potential of the players he inherited. In his first season, the Titans went 7-3 and broke a 30-year playoff drought.
McFarland has helped increase participation in the program by nearly 400 percent – from under 30 to now 120 youth football players – in addition to the team's average GPA rising significantly, according to Lorain High School assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eddie Hall.
Now, after one of the most memorable seasons in program history, optimism abounds about the direction and places McFarland will take the Titans next.
"His agenda wasn't just to win football games, but to help the kids progress and do better and change their lives," Hall said. "Him coaching us on how to do that, coaching coaches, and with him doing that along with putting emphasis on the freshman and JV programs really paid dividends for our kids."
With youth football providing year-round programming for players, coaches, officials and parents, the Cleveland Browns continue to evolve as a development leader for the game of football. Through camps, clinics and other football-based initiatives, the Browns strive to provide quality programs to ensure the youth of today are involved with the sport for generations to come.
On the high school level, the Browns created the Cleveland Browns High School Game of the Week, presented by PNC Bank and in association with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, which chronicles one of the biggest games in the Cleveland area. The annual Cleveland Browns High School Showcase, which is designed for current high school students who want to continue their playing career at the collegiate level, features combine-style testing as well as position specific drills, which includes passing, route running, linemen work, agility bags, and much more.