Doug Smith Continues the Battle Against Myeloma While Leading His Team

After enduring chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, high school football coach and Liberty alumnus Doug Smith has resumed coaching on the field and continues to serve his community.  

Head varsity football coach Doug Smith has led the Appomattox Raiders to five state championships in six years and has the highest winning percentage of any coach in Central Virginia. He has over 30 years of coaching experience at four different schools.

However, his biggest challenge of the last year has been off the field of competition as he was diagnosed with a cancer called multiple myeloma in October 2020.                                            

In the summer of 2020, Smith experienced pain in his chest and difficulty bending over and exercising. His doctor believed swollen cartilage in his chest was the cause of his aliments. Days later, when Smith could not lay or sit down with ease, he agreed to get an X-ray.  

The X-rays showed multiple tumors in his chest and back. A CT scan revealed a severe case of multiple myeloma—a cancer of the plasma. It surrounded his ribs, skull, spine and parts of his leg bones. 

The early stages of treatment were nearly insufferable. The radiation treatments caused him to vomit and experience large amounts of fluid loss. He went from weighing 185 pounds to 159 pounds in a couple of weeks. 

As part of his treatment, Smith would need a stem cell transplant. Since it causes people to lose more weight, he needed to regain most of the weight he had lost.  

“In my fourth week of treatment, even though it was painful, I just got these dumbbells and started working out,” Smith said. “And the only reason I was doing that was because I needed to gain weight.” 

The stem cell transplant, which was performed at Duke University, caused Smith to have extreme exhaustion and lose his appetite. After living on fluids and eating small meals for 18 days, he was cleared to go back home. 

After this, Smith said he felt like he began to recover. Doctors told him he would be fortunate to have a white blood cell count of 4,000. Doctors found a white blood cell count of 5,500 a few weeks later.   

Smith currently has no pain in his back and chest, and in his last blood test, the cancer was not found. 

Smith has a bone marrow biopsy scheduled for Sept. 27. If the doctors find little to no cancer in the blood, his recovery will be nearly complete. If they find a significant amount of cancer, Smith will undergo a blood transplant again. 

Smith is grateful for his progress and is currently in prayer about his upcoming biopsy.

“My prayer is that it’s just not there,” Smith said. 

Throughout his journey of having cancer, Smith’s faith in God has helped him stay optimistic. Prayer, casting off fear and reading the Bible were a few of the methods he used to help him endure the trying season. Smith’s relationship with God has been strengthened during his journey with cancer. 

“God tells us to pray, and he tells us to bother him with prayer,” Smith said. “One short part of my prayer time is, ‘God, if it’s your will, take this cancer away. But if you don’t, I’m good because I know you’ve got it, and what you want to do with my life is great with me.’” 

Growing up in Upper Marlboro Maryland, Smith often played football, and he joined a team in high school as a quarterback. While he was a student at Liberty University (’86), he moved to the wide receiver position and played with eventual NFL greats, including Kelvin Edwards, Steve Clark, Phil Basso, Fred Banks, Rennie Jones and Eric Green. When his chances to play in the NFL diminished after pulling a leg muscle, Smith decided to pursue a career as a football coach.   

Landing his first coaching position with the Flames, Smith would begin his journey of becoming one of the most successful football coaches in Central Virginia.  

After a year of coaching the wide receivers at Liberty University, Smith accepted a coaching position and later the position as the athletic director at William Campbell High School in Naruna, Virginia. After a year went by, Smith realized there was an opportunity to minister to the students at the school. For the next five years, Coach Smith and his wife opened their home to William Campbell students who needed assistance in their studies as well as help through tough life situations. 

“I found out after the first six weeks of coaching that there are so many kids who need help and have no clue how God can work in their life,” Smith said. “If I look back, I probably looked a little bit like that in high school at times where I wasn’t outspoken enough.”

After his time at William Campbell, he was hired as a teacher at Heritage High School in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he would spend around 20 years ministering to the youth as a teacher and coach, three of which he was the head coach for football. Bible studies were formed, students joined local camps overseen by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the football team bonded to win several games. Smith often looks back on his fruitful time at Heritage.

Appomattox has won five of the last six state championships. (Photo provided)

“It’s just amazing how God had worked in their lives,” Coach Smith said. “These were troubled kids that coaches struggled to work with. But yet, we were still able to minister to them. Now, they are loving dads with families and good jobs, and they are sharing Christ with people.”

In 2011, Smith was released by Heritage. Smith remembered that God had a plan for his life, and he sought to love and pray for the people involved in the decision. After waiting for God’s timing, he felt led to coach at Appomattox County High School in Appomattox, Virginia. 

Before his first football season began at Appomattox, he attended an FCA camp with some of his players. There, the starting football quarterback became a Christian. It was then that Smith knew his move to the school was worth it. Eventually, Bible studies formed and grew, the school accepted the faith-based coaching styles and the local community grew closer. 

Smith encouraged his football team to serve others in the Appomattox area and after a tornado tore through the close-knit community, his players could be found helping with the massive cleanup effort. 

“They really learned how to serve during those years,” Smith said. “It carried over to other things— people who needed yard work, go to the nursing home and visit people who were sick in the hospital.”

Now entering year 33 of coaching football, Smith encourages his team to “be the best team that ever played.” Under the coaching of Smith, the players are eager to grow as a team and grow to be better people. 

Cheryl Ellis, who works closely with the football team as their “team mom,” had a glowing opinion of Smith and the work he has done. She said that Smith came into their town at just the right time.

“Back in 2015/16, we had a lot of tragedies in our community…” Ellis said. “It was just something to do, Friday Night lights.”

Ellis’ son Matt graduated in 2017 and is now an assistant coach at Appomattox. She mentioned that Smith’s work off the football field with the players has been instrumental to their development.

Throughout 2021, people from multiple churches and organizations have prayed for Smith and sent him encouraging letters. Smith is overwhelmed and in awe of what God does in and through people. Smith’s prayer request is that his relationship with Christ would grow, and that he would do more for God’s kingdom every day. 

“God bless you,” Smith said. “I am praying, for everyone that has been praying for me, that they receive sevenfold the blessings that I have received.” 

Satterthwaite is a sports reporter.

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