Doleman draws motivation from late father

STEPHENS CITY — Every time Sherando senior John Doleman Jr. takes the football field for the Warriors this season, he does so with a heavy heart.

On Feb. 8, Doleman lost his father, John Sr., to a fatal heart attack. On that day, Doleman didn’t just say goodbye to his father and lifelong mentor — he said goodbye to his No. 1 fan.

“It’s been hard just knowing that he’s not here to support me anymore,” a soft-spoken Doleman said after Sherando’s practice on Tuesday. “When he was here he was my number one supporter. It’s hard to face that fact that he’s not here anymore.”

John Doleman Sr. — who played football at Clarke County High School — was always quick to give football advice to his son, the younger Doleman recalls, as he regularly offered tips on how the young linebacker could improve his game after each Sherando practice.

Nine months have passed since John Doleman Sr.’s death, but he’s still making an impact on his son each and every time he steps on the football field.

“Every Friday, every practice he’s my motivation,” Doleman Jr. said.

Doleman Jr., whose younger brother, KeVon, is a freshman in Sherando’s football program and older half-brother, Dante Tibbs, was a four-year player for the Warriors prior to graduating this past spring, hasn’t had to cope with the loss alone.

Sherando head coach Bill Hall — who competed on the football field against John Doleman Sr. before graduating from Strasburg High School in 1992 — said the Warriors’ coaching staff has taken on an added responsibility to take care of Doleman Jr. and his brothers.

“We’ve done some stuff through some scholarships, making sure that we’re going to try to take care of those guys as best we can in the future, because I think we owe it to those guys,” Hall said. “They give everything they can to us. That’s part of our jobs as coaches, to look after these guys.”

Hall said that family-type atmosphere among Sherando’s football program likely provided some extra comfort to Doleman, who was right back in the weight room with his teammates the day after his father’s funeral.

From there, Doleman worked relentlessly during the offseason to get himself physically prepared to help fill the holes left in Sherando’s defense by the graduation of talented linebackers George Aston, Daniel Eppard and Joseph Daley.

“I knew I was going to be a big part of the defense,” Doleman said. “Last year [we had] three big linebackers, I knew that I had a big role to fill. I just got to work.”

Doleman grew noticeably bigger and stronger during offseason workouts, bumping his weight up to about 215 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame. All of that work has translated well on the football field.

In his first season as a full-time starter at Sherando’s ‘mike’ linebacker position, Doleman — who said he plays every game in honor of his father — leads the Warriors in total tackles (84) and interceptions (4) while helping spearhead a Sherando defense that is allowing 15.3 points and 226 yards per game heading into Friday’s Region 4A North second-round contest at Liberty High School in Bealeton.

The senior said he’s surprised himself with just how well he’s performed on the field this season — particularly the four interceptions — but he added that he had some great role models in the trio of linebackers that came before him.

“I learned a lot from them,” Doleman said. “They were just phenomenal football players. They did their jobs, read the keys they were in and I wanted to be just like them. I’m working my way up. I don’t think I’m there yet.”

Hall likened Doleman’s physicality at the linebacker position to that of Aston, who was voted the Virginia High School Coaches Association Group 4A Defensive Player of the Year last season and is currently a preferred walk-on at the University of Pittsburgh.

“John’s a product of being in our program three years, now four years — there’s four years of work on that body,” Hall said. “He’s just reaping what he’s sowed. He’s put in a lot of time so he can be successful and I think learning how to practice, how to read your keys, coach [John] Minteer doing a great job with him, coach [Cory] Carlson doing a great job with him — I think all those things culminated into him being a really, really dominant linebacker.”

Hall said Doleman, like his father, demands attention from opposing players and coaches because of his on-field success.

“Going into a ballgame I knew I was going against a Doleman, and I think if you line up and you’re going to play against Sherando you better account for him,” Hall said, adding that opposing coaches “know who John Doleman is and that says a lot about his play.”

But for all of John Doleman Jr.’s on-field achievements this season, it’s his off-the-field personality that strikes Hall the most.

“As much I love watching him be a great football player, I’m more proud of the fact that he’s a great man,” Hall said. “Going through losing your dad, I don’t know how I could do that. He’s just always been solid for everybody else. I think we were all there for him, but he was just as much there for us. I think he’s just a very strong young man. I think that’s a credit to his dad and to his family.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com