Photo by Bill Roseberry
Eric Dickerson talks with the Alton defense during the 2014 season. Dickerson, the defensive coordinator for the Redbirds in ‘14, was recently named the new head coach of the program starting in 2015.
As a lifelong resident of the Greater Alton area and a 1996 graduate of Marquette Catholic High School, Eric Dickerson has his finger on the pulse of the community.
So when District 11 announced him as the next head football coach of the Alton Redbirds on Feb. 17, it was a dream for Dickerson, who will turn 37 in March. It’s a game he knows well. He’s spent the last 13 years as an assistant coach, including the last five at Alton High. He also spent three years with East Alton-Wood River and five years prior to that at Marquette.
Dickerson was the defensive coordinator for Jeff Alderman at AHS last year. Alderman resigned after three years at the helm of the Alton football program. He will still serve as the school’s athletics director.
The Redbirds are yearning for consistency, a long-term plan. Alderman thought Dickerson was the perfect leader to institute that plan.
“Looking at the big scheme of things and wanting to maintain continuity within our program and someone our kids are familiar with, essentially the way things have been going Eric has been interviewing the last three years,” Alderman said. “He’s done a great job and I’m very confident and excited for him and our kids and the program and the direction he’ll take it. The more we got into the process the more clear it became that this was the guy we wanted.”
There were 37 applicants for the Alton job, but in the end five came in for interviews, ranging from head coaches, to assistants, to college coaches.
“We felt Eric had the most to offer to us than any of those,” Alderman said.
His familiarity at Alton from being an assistant football coach for five years and the head boys’ track and field coach for the last four was huge in the deciding factor. But his philosophy doesn’t stray far from Alderman’s and that maintained with the continuity trend.
“I want to be a disciplined team. I want to do the little things right,” Dickerson said. “I want to be sound in blocking and tackling. I’m kind of a throwback coach. I believe in good defense and running the ball is key to winning the games.”
That makes sense, with Dickerson being a running back and defensive end for former head coach Mike Slaughter with the Explorers, now the school’s principal, before continuing his career at McKendree University as a defensive end during its days in NAIA football.
Alderman believes in defense first too, so that helped sell him on Dickerson.
“Philosophically Eric is a defensive-minded coach and I really think when you go to set up a football program that it all starts with your defense,” Alderman said. “There’s an old saying that if the other team can’t score you can’t lose, so there’s a lot to be said when you build things around a defense.”
It will be an uphill battle for Dickerson competing in the Southwestern Conference. The rugged conference is filled with annual playoff contenders and state-ranked teams like East St. Louis, Edwardsville, O’Fallon and Belleville West.
Dickerson knows it won’t be easy, but the focus needs to remain on the Redbirds by getting numbers, weight training and offseason workouts to be ready when it’s time to suit up on Fridays.
“We have to focus on our team and what we do and definitely worry about Alton,” Dickerson said. “It’s one of the toughest conferences in the state, I feel strongly about that. It will be week to week. We’ll scout our opponent and watch them and put in the necessary adjustments we need to, but in the grand scheme of things it’s worrying about Alton and putting our best players on the field and being fundamentally sound.
“Our goal is to be a perennial playoff team and to get there, as cliché as it may sound, it’s got to be done November through August in the weight room. That’s where you develop your winning teams and team chemistry.”
It will be a slight challenge for Dickerson, who loses 20 seniors from the Alton program. He won’t have the issue of defending players like Edwardsville quarterback Dan Marinko, West signal caller Sherand Boyd or East Side running back Natreace Strong, or have to line up against Flyer defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. because of their graduation. While those scenarios are welcomed, he knows the SWC will still provide plenty of obstacles.
“They just reload though,” Dickerson said, chuckling. “East Side’s got the wide receiver (Jeff Thomas). That kid is only a sophomore and he’s a burner. Those schools, that’s our goal, to be able to reload. That’s definitely a goal of ours, but not having to try and block a Terry Beckner Jr. will ease our mind a little bit.”