JEFFERSONVILLE — As Isaac Parker looked to fill out his first football coaching staff at his alma mater, he sought out coaches with ties to the program, a passion for football and positive people who are committed to building a winning culture.
A Jeffersonville police officer, Parker knew he could also use a presence within Jeffersonville High School. Parker said he immediately thought of Jeff girls track coach Ericka Herd for a role on his staff. Herd, the first woman to serve as a football coach at Jeffersonville, will be the Red Devils’ personnel and academic coach.
“At first, I still didn’t know the magnitude of it. I just thought I’d be some type of support system in the building, but it’s much more than that to my surprise,” Herd said. “I’ll be running study tables. I’ll be a support system in the building. I’ll be helping with strength and conditioning and leading warm-ups prior to games.”
Herd has competed as a professional bodybuilder since her days as a Division I track athlete, and she also works as a personal trainer during down time as a Jeff freshman English teacher.
“I wanted people that win in every aspect of life. I want to be able to show the kids that you have to win in order to be successful. Whether that be in work, in the weight room, in the class room. She’s working on her PhD. She wins at everything,” Parker said.
And coaching is in her blood. Her father, Sheldon Herd, was a long-time defensive assistant coach at the collegiate level, spending long stints at Eastern Illinois and Northern Illinois. Sheldon helped develop his daughter’s character as a person as well as her eventual longing to be a coach.
Ericka recalls playing along the football sideline and being told to go run on the track. It became apparent she was moving around the track pretty quickly. By the time she was at DeKalb High School, Herd was an elite athlete in Illinois, qualifying for the IHSA state track finals all four years. She went on to compete at Eastern Kentucky and eventually got into coaching. In her first year as girls coach at Louisville Ballard, Herd led the program to a state title in 2008.
At Jeffersonville, Herd has guided the Red Devils to six sectional titles in her eight years and has sent at least one athlete to the state finals in seven of her eight seasons.
“I’ll be looking at proper form, their ability to run tall and things like that. It’ll be interesting to translate that from track to football,” Herd said.
Her approach to coaching football? She’s been thinking back to how her father approached it.
“No doubt, it was the importance of building relationships with athletes. He drilled that in me as a kid from modeling that behavior,” she said. “Very often, he would have team dinners at our house. Many times the athletes and their girlfriends would come and dine with us on Sundays. He would spend hours talking with them about life and making good decisions.”
Sheldon Herd is intrigued by what his daughter can do with this opportunity.
“Ericka was raised on college campuses,” he said. “She understands it’s not just having the kids perform in competition but making sure they succeed athletically, academically and also socially. She understands hard work. She understands what it will take to be the best coach she can be. Maybe it will lead to other responsibilities. It’s a matter of learning a little bit more and a little more as she goes along. Ericka’s a competitor. She’s always understood that she’s got to put the time in. She’ll be someone who’s a great student of the game.”
Parker has a desire to develop disciplined and dedicated athletes. Whether the people assisting are male or female doesn’t matter. The National Football League has several female assistant coaches. Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians hired Lori Lucust as assistant defensive line coach and Maral Javadifar as full-time assistant strength coach.
“If you look at her credentials on paper, I think anybody would make the same decision. I’ve been piecing together a staff for a while. A lot of people have come back and coached on previous assistants and I was short, I was missing something,” Parker said. “This is somebody that’s qualified to do what we need. She brings a level of energy that you can’t find anywhere. She brings a level of commitment to coaching that’s hard to find.”
Sheldon Herd knows his daughter is embracing the challenge.
“If you asked me 30 years ago if I’d have had a daughter coaching football, I’d have said no. It’s a great opportunity for her and in terms of being a pioneer to coach football. I’d love to see if it’s her desire to really be a coach on the field and coach a position. We’ll see where it goes,” Sheldon Herd said.
Priority No. 1 for Ericka is helping Parker on his mission to build a winning culture.
“For me personally, one of the things coach Parker and I have talked about, he often speaks of my contagious winning attitude across the board. I try to always be positive,” she said.
She could also be a helpful recruiter as Parker looks to increase the participation totals for football at all levels.
As a teacher, Herd encourages any student to get involved in something extracurricular.
“I’ve always tried to gravitate to the athletes, whether it’s promoting girls to come out for the track team, but also the boys to go out for a team,” Herd said. “Even if it’s not track or not football, just get involved in your high school in some way. Sports is not for everyone, but for me, I know it enriched so many gaps in my life. Where I grew up at, [there was a] very, very small number of African-Americans. It was not always a pretty day for me at the school racially. For me, it was things like sports and having my athletic abilities recognized. They helped bridge that gap.”
With the 2019 football season less than a month away, Herd is excited to get to work for coach Parker.
“I love his personality and that he’s a go-getter. He’s very positive, just like I am. He brings something special to the team. He’s going to lead us into the right direction,” she said.