|By Chris Hays, Orlando Sentinel|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Each school, however, was in need of far more. The respective administrations were looking for not only someone who could draw up the Xs and Os, but also a person who could lead, mentor, guide and develop teens into young men; positive, contributing members of society.
Football, for most of them, is nothing more than an extra-curricular activity. It is not life.
So these schools searched for the men they thought could lead type of forward-thinking movement. These players needed guidance. Any person can scream and berate them. The right person, however, would have better methods.
Both schools found their answers, in
It wasn't easy for either school to bring them in. It took some coercing.
"I never once thought about it," said Graham, the former Florida Gator and Tampa Bay Bucs running back who begins his first season as a football coach at North Fort Myers on Monday when high school football practice opens across the state.
He was approached this past winter about the job. The school needed Graham; and Pensacola Washington needed Ward.
Athletes at the two schools used to carry a swagger. They walked with their chests out when they wore their jerseys. Back then, guys like
Both are Pro Football Hall of Famers. Brooks was inducted Saturday night.
During the past seven years, however, the two schools have won just 32 games between them. For perspective, that's 32 out of 70. In 2012,
It didn't used to be that way. In a three-year span from 2004-06, both schools piled up 45 wins in 80 games.
Both schools want the tradition back. Change is in the air.
"I didn't think I would enjoy coaching, but I truly have," Graham said, who cut his teeth on this initial foray into coaching during the spring practice session. "Every day you face something that you have experienced and you get a chance to teach ... and learn again for yourself."
Graham and Ward have taken different paths through life, but they each preach the same values and goals. Building football teams is one thing. Building young men is their platform.
Back to Florida
Ward, a former Florida State two-sport star and Heisman Trophy winner, was not only FSU's starting quarterback in the early 90s, but also the point guard on a Seminoles basketball team that made the
Ward was selected in the first round of the 1994 NBA Draft by the
He spent 12 seasons in the
"Family time. ... I wanted to spend more time at home with more of a regular schedule and high school was the next best thing," said Ward, who has three children with wife, Tonja. Ward's oldest child will start high school this year.
Ward, who sits No. 2 on the FSU career total offense chart with 6,636 yards and has the school's top career pass-completion rate at 62.3 percent, started off at Westbury coaching basketball and eventually took over the football program. But he needed something else.
"Because our parents are getting older, we wanted to be able to be within driving distance," said Ward, whose parents still live in his hometown of
He searched for a little more than a year for the right situation, "but nothing really came up or the timing wasn't right at our school for me to leave ... but last year I just decided to resign and pursue something closer."
It was not and easy decision. Tonja had established her own career in the
"Of course this is Derrick's high school and he was the first one to approach me. ... Derrick was instrumental in making all of this work."
It's definitely a bit easier when you have a Hall of Fame buddy in your corner.
"He has a great reputation and he's willing to support, and not just from a financial standpoint, the things we are trying to get done here," Ward said. "He understands and feels comfortable supporting his alma mater now."
He's still in transition. He sat in his office at
"Um yes ... I'm still working on all of the certification stuff at this point," Ward said. "You can be a coach, but you don't get the benefits and all of that kind of stuff until you are certified. But I'm hired. We got that part taken care of.
"It's been good. It wasn't easy. ... It's been a bit of a transition. It's a lot different than what I had become accustomed to, which was at a private school."
Now Ward just hopes to set something in place to build on at
"We have some very good athletes here. They are just in need of some structure, some guidance," Ward said. "Our kids have bought into what we are trying to get done, so that's been good."
And Ward has the support of the players.
"It's great. I enjoy it. He has a lot of rules and he makes us work hard,"
"When we first heard about it, everybody was excited and everybody was glad to see him there and we were all just hoping we'd be a different team this year. I had seen him on my video games, [EA Sports
Ward, a former student body vice president at FSU, brings far more than his sports experience to the table, and it's that knowledge and understanding of his place in the lives of young men that he shares with Graham.
"What we teach our kids is stuff that I learned along the way, and that's not just stuff on the football field, but also in the classroom. ... Characteristics that you are going to carry with you after you graduate," Ward said. "So that's our goal. We're going to teach them footwork and that kind of stuff, but when it's all said and done, being able to relate and deal with issues that you have going on is part of being a coach with a purpose."
Back to football
When Graham retired from the Tampa Bay Bucs, his only
"He gave me a call about the coaching job, and I just kind of had the itch to get back into the game, so I scratched it," Graham said.
He sometimes finds himself scratching his head. There's more involved than he figured. He's learning along the way
"I didn't realize all of the details that go along with it," Graham said. "So I take my hat off to all of those guys who have been doing it for a long time, keeping everything organized and keeping a handle on their boys, making sure they are both playing good football and being good students."
He is still the second all-time leading rusher in the history of
Graham certainly did his bit of chasing. It wasn't always easy. Ward could have played three different professional sports; Graham worked his tail off to play one.
"Coming out of high school I was a celebrated guy, but coming out of college, I had to go the long road to the
Graham went undrafted in 2002 but latched on with the
"I played for the same
"It's a chance to give back. That's the key. You learn that when you've done something for 20-some years and you don't know anything other than that, so you try to confront that and try all these new things ... but you have these experiences and those experiences give you a certain richness and so I have been able to give that back."
"It's definitely a great experience playing for
"I was surprised ... I expected him to be 24 / 7 football, football, football ... but he's very education-oriented, which is very good "We didn't really know what to expect. He's a very intelligent, eloquent, well spoken person who had success in professional football and I was personally surprised."
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