Terry Verdier was one of the luckiest people in the world.
There are a vast number of people who spend a lifetime looking for their niche. That place they fit in without a lot of stress. That somewhere that has a lot of friends who respect you for your talents and your being.
It’s a place where you feel vital because of your versatility, commitment and contribution.
Verdier found that in Smithsburg.
To be more specific, he lived it with Smithsburg football.
This week was to be one of the biggest ones of the year for Verdier. For most of his life, Labor Day week was met with excitement.
For more than a quarter century, Verdier spent this week getting pumped and prepared because it was the countdown to Smithsburg’s first football game of the season.
Because of that, Smithsburg’s leopard mascot was a perfect comparison to Verdier. Each spot represented each little thing Verdier did for Smithsburg football.
Every spot on the leopard represented every job Verdier readily attacked to help get the team out on the field — first as a player in the 1980s, before spending the last 18 years as the Leopards’ defensive coordinator.
It all changed last month — right before the start of preseason practice — when Verdier died in a tragic accident while mowing his lawn.
In one quick twist of fate, the Leopards symbolically lost their spots.
“When we lost Terry, we lost a guy who wore a lot of hats,” said Buddy Orndorff, Smithsburg’s head coach.
Verdier’s death was the closest thing to a shock to Smithsburg’s system. He was a guy who had been prowling Leopards sidelines for much of his adolescent and adult life.
He had been a state champion quarterback. Then he returned, moving to the defensive side of things, to coach.
He was working with people who taught him as a youth, who became peers as a professional. The roles changed, but Verdier was still fixated on obtaining the excellence he experienced as a player and keeping it alive through the next generations at Smithsburg.
It was a tradition he grew up with at Smithsburg. It’s a tradition he tried to pass on in honor of the people who coached him — starting with Leopards legend Carroll Reid, riding right through to Orndorff and the rest of the coaching staff he worked with.
Now Smithsburg is trying to do it all in the memory of Verdier.
“It’s been tough,” Orndorff said. “(The coaches) are all doing a lot of things they haven’t been used to doing because they were all things that Terry took care of. The staff has done a great job picking up the pieces, but we are filling in for him by committee.
“It’s been a big adjustment, but everyone is rallying around each other. And the biggest thing about getting used to losing him was in the manner that we lost him.”
Verdier found his niche by being so many things.
During his 18 years as defensive coordinator, Verdier basically restructured the way the Leopards played as the roster numbers dwindled. His system was sophisticated and intricate.
He was Smithsburg’s answer to Steve Jobs, the late president of Apple.
“He was the guy in charge of all our technology,” Orndorff said. “The guys used to joke about riding in the back of his van. It was like riding in a movie theater. He had all the tape machines and things for them to watch game films when they were on the road.”
Most of all, Verdier was one of the coaches who most of the players loved to be around. He was a steadying voice and someone to look to in need, for instruction and friendship.
Like in any other situation, the show still goes on even after loss. Smithsburg will be opening its season this weekend against Northern Garrett. In this case, it’s time to play “next coach up.”
“Steve Lindsay is handling the defensive coordinator duties now,” Orndorff said. “He is doing some new things and making adjustments, but he has kept a lot of what (Terry) implemented.”
It’s easy to see that the Leopards are going about their business, but are doing it with Verdier in the back of their minds.
And in a way, it’s probably how Verdier himself would want it.
But in all this, there is a glaring aspect — albeit a little disturbing — about life as we know it today.
There are many people in our world who believe in what they do and go above and beyond the norm to help make a difference.
In the whirl of our world, we seem to take those people for granted. When they are present, there is a calm feeling because we know that everything is covered and will run relatively smoothly.
We don’t take the time to realize their importance until they are gone. Then everything changes.
That basically defines Terry Verdier and the niche he found at Smithsburg.
And now that he is gone, the Leopards must change their spots.
Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.