Graham senior running back Austin Brayton during a recent scrimmage. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/GREG BILLING

High School Football: Graham next success story on coach’s list

Cahill, 26, played on three regional finalist teams at West Jefferson High School. He was an all-conference linebacker at Urbana University, helping the Blue Knights to the most wins in program history in a four-year span (26). And the last three seasons he served as Mechanicsburg’s defensive coordinator, reaching the regional finals twice.

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Cahill, in his first season at Graham, plans to add the Falcons to that list.

“I’ve been around a lot of winning teams. We think we have the formula, we just have to execute it,” Cahill said.

Graham finished 2-8 overall and 2-2 in the Central Buckeye Conference’s Mad River Division last season. The Falcons have gone 15-55 the past seven years since their last winning season (8-2) in 2009.

There’s cause for optimism as Cahill takes over his first head coaching job. Player participation is in the mid-50s for the Falcons (24 of them are freshmen). That’s about 20 more players than he was used to with Mechanicsburg. And talent returns with senior leadership.

Gage Braun returns at quarterback after throwing for 1,042 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions last season.

“He’s a great kid and the other guys look up to him,” Cahill said. “He’s got to lead from the front. Offensively he’s running the show and defensively he makes a lot of checks for us. He’s our guy. He’s got to lead the team.”

Also among the senior class, running back Austin Brayton led the team with 863 yards on 106 carries (8.1 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. Jarrett Knoop, Chandler Stroud and Zach Caudill are competing for spots at wide receiver and cornerback.

Michael Shook anchors the offensive and defensive lines. Levi Allison returns at center on the offensive line, along with Austyn Collier and Dalton Oder (who also kicks). Tight end Khrizdon VanHoose is a big red-zone target at 6-foot-4.

“We bring a lot of guys back. We have 10 seniors this year so a lot of those guys are going to see the field,” Cahill said. “They have experience and we’re asking them to lead for us. We told them if they want to turn this program around they’re the start of it.”

The 2017 schedule features five teams that made the playoffs last season, starting with West Liberty-Salem in Week 1. Sidney Lehman, Indian Lake, Benjamin Logan and Jonathan Alder also reached the postseason. Cahill wants to win on the scoreboard, of course, but for now he’s looking for little victories within the game itself.

“We’re talking about winning the moment. That’s kind of our slogan,” Cahill said. “We’re not going to talk about winning games on Friday nights unless we win the little things. Then the wins will come. We talked about being accountable and being there for your guys. We have to be a family and accountable to the guy next to you for effort. You have to win the moments.”

To do that expect the run game to take a larger role. The Falcons allowed the most points in the CBC last season (43.8 per game). To help prevent that this season – and to keep the defense off the field for longer stretches – Cahill wants an offense focused on ball control.

“I think the best way to fix that is get some drives going and move the chains. Keep time of possession in our favor and ease up on our defense,” Cahill said.

When Cahill applied for the Graham job he admits he wasn’t sure if he had a chance with no head coaching experience and his age. He was somewhat familiar with Graham after scrimmaging the team the past three seasons while at Mechanicsburg. Now, entering his first season, Cahill and the Falcons will learn together.

“The support I’ve gotten so far from the AD, the school board and the staff has been phenomenal,” Cahill said. “The kids are big and athletic. I wanted to come over here and try to get the most out of them. … We talk about responding all the time. We can’t quit. You have to believe in people. We have to stay positive. We have to respond and handle the adversity.”

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