The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


October 21, 2013

TD Club OF Series: Oh, brother!

Dennis Jepson was one of five boys who starred on the gridiron at Ashtabula

When Tony Chiachierro thinks of Dennis Jepson, he automatically thinks of family.

“We were fortunate at Ashtabula High School to have a number of families that participated in football,” Chiachierro, who was head coach at Ashtabula from 1958 to 1970 said. “The Jepson family was one of them.

“They had five boys in the family and all of them participated in football.”

Dennis, who graduated from high school in 1961, will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club Hall of Fame on Dec. 9 at Mount Carmel. The second-oldest of the five boys, Dennis joins his older brother, Larry, in the Hall of Fame. Larry was inducted in 2007.

“We grew up on the east side of Ashtabula,” Dennis’ younger brother Norm said. “We attended State Road School. Dennis played offensive tackle. Our mother (Janet) passed away at an early age. My dad (Gilbert) did remarry.”

According to Norm Jepson, his father drove a truck for Motor Express and his mother was a housewife.

“They were all outstanding participants,” said Chiachierro of the five boys — Larry, Dennis, Calvin, Gibby and Norm. “Not only were they outstanding players, but all of them were team leaders. Their mother passed away, so the father raised the boys. He did a great job. All of them went to college and all of them got college degrees.”

According to Chiacchiero Dennis, who died in 2011, was one member of an outstanding group of then-sophomores at Ashtabula.

 “He spearheaded that group that led to my first championship as a coach,” Chiacchiero said. “We went 7-2-1 in 1960 and shared the NEC title.”

Chiacchiero remembers some of those games from that season. The Panthers traveled to Painesville to play Harvey, coached by Jack Britt (later, the stadium was named after Britt) at that time a perennial power, and beat the Red Raiders for the first time in years, 14-6.

Another big victory came against Wickliffe, coached by Ed Logan.

“Wickliffe was also a perennial power,” Chiacchiero said. “In 1960, they were the leading-scoring team in the state. The week before we played them, they had scored 63 points on Geneva.

“But we had some excellent scouting reports. The kids followed the game plan. We wanted to keep them to 20 points or less. They did score 20 points. Fortunately, we scored 28 and beat them.”

The Panthers also beat Mentor, 28-0.

“I think we are the last Ashtabula County team to beat Mentor,” Chiacchiero said.

Jepson was an outstanding tackle on that team, but the Panthers had plenty of talent, including Vaughn Tittle at quarterback, a 2012 inductee into the TD Club’s Hall of Fame. Terry Weaver and Nick Deligianis, two other Panthers, are also in the Hall of Fame.

Other big contributors were Joe Tracy at center, Richard Hinson at end and Don Bell at halfback.

Pete Brown, according to Chiacchiero “probably the finest quarterback I ever had,” was a sophomore on that team and played sparingly. Brown later graduated from the Air Force Academy and became an attorney.

“By the time he was a senior. he was 6-foot, 160,” Chiachierro said. “He was also an excellent leader, like a coach on the field. He had a 158 IQ.”

Chiacchiero remembers Jepson’s contributions in the win over Mentor.

“He opened some gigantic holes for our fullback, Bruce Harley,” Chiacchiero said. “We were able to keep the ball away from Mentor.”

The work that Panther team did proved to be a building block for the next several years.

“I credit that team for laying the foundation for all the success we had in the 1960s,” Chiachierro said. “We won the NEC seven of eight years, went undefeated twice and had 11 consecutive winning seasons. We sent 15 athletes to Divison I schools on athletic scholarships.”

When Jepson was a senior, Furman University, where Dennis’s brother Larry was playing, sent Chiacchiero an application form for Dennis.

“His name was well-known,” Chiacchiero said. “His brother had an outstanding career at Furman. Larry, whom I didn’t coach. was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. That was an excellent football family, good students and college graduates.”

Of the other Jepsons, Calvin went to Vanderbilt and Gibby to Ohio University on scholarships. Norm, who had suffered from polio as a kid but played at Ashtabula, wasn’t able to play football in college, but graduated from Kent State.

“Dennis was a three-year letterman, also all-city , all-county and all-NEC. At the end of the season, he was selected by the team as the outstanding defensive lineman,” Chiacchiero said.

Dennis also threw the shot and discus at Ashtabula, according to his brother Norm.

“He held the discus record (at Ashtabula) for years,” Norm said.

Chiacchiero coached the Panthers for 13 years before leaving that job to become an administrator, going 89-33-6 (.730).

“We were very fortunate to have some great kids at the time and a great coaching staff,” he said.

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