“All the places you go to — ‘Rocky Top Tennessee,’ Jordan-Hare Stadium, Baton Rouge, Tuscaloosa — you realize how important fan support is,” Dede, 29, said of his time in the Southeastern Conference and coaching Southern high school football.
“I want to get the student body, faculty and community to rally behind the team and create an environment where they become the 12th man, that added factor that makes it difficult for opposing teams.”
Woodbridge should have a lot to cheer about. Many Northern Virginia coaches considered it the plum opening of the offseason, and not just because of two-time All-Met defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand or sophomore quarterback Mike Majette, who has an offer from West Virginia.
Woodbridge Athletic Director Jason Koch sifted through 60 applicants and interviewed 10, including five candidates with head coaching experience and two that had won state titles in Virginia. The school chose Dede to lead a program that has reached the Virginia AAA Northwest Region playoffs in eight of the past nine years. The Vikings’ freshman team went unbeaten last fall.
“One of the things I tried to feel out was who had the most immediate talent, and really, everybody talked to me about the wealth of talent at Woodbridge,” said Dede, who played on two Division 6 champion teams at Hylton and was a linebacker and safety at Auburn, serving a key role on the team that capped an undefeated season with a win over Virginia Tech in the 2005 Sugar Bowl.
Dede planned to meet with the returning Woodbridge players on Friday. He promises change in the program, particularly in regard to “structure and discipline,” and even has a new role for his standout recruit. Dede plans to move Hand from nose tackle to defensive end or outside linebacker, the position Hand likely will play in college.
Dede showed natural leadership during his playing days at Hylton. One anecdote: After Potomac (Va.) ended Hylton’s 39-game winning streak in 2000 on the Bulldogs’ home field to cap its own unbeaten regular season, the visiting players and their fans rightfully celebrated, delaying the handshake line. The Hylton players started to head for the locker room. Dede intervened and asked the coaches to keep the Bulldogs on the field to extend proper congratulations, a gesture that then-Hylton Coach Bill Brown later called an “unusual but right decision.”
Dede was a marginal Division I recruit as an undersized high school linebacker. He recalls having a 1.79 GPA in his core classes headed into his senior year, but after making almost all A’s his last year of high school and then spending a semester at Hargrave Military Academy, he landed a scholarship to Auburn.
In recent years, as an Auburn graduate assistant, he earned his doctorate in higher education, such a rarity among football coaches that Dede traded e-mails with former Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, who had gotten his doctorate almost 50 years prior, just to compare notes.
Dede will teach special education at Woodbridge. He replaces Kevin Smith, who stepped down for a possible family move out of state.
“[Dede] knocked our socks off with his interview,” Koch said. “We just feel like he’s going to be a wonderful leader with our kids. He’s got it all.”