New Graham coach hopeful, realistic

“We haven’t gone around preaching, ‘We’re going to win eight games this year,’ ” said Graham’s new head coach who has worked as a Falcons’ assistant for 26 years.

That doesn’t mean Tullis and his players expect to go 2-8 again. The theme for this season is improvement every day. That, says Tullis, will lead the Falcons back to respectability in the Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division.

“We’re all pretty positive and we’re hoping it comes out pretty good, at least 5-5,” said junior quarterback Victor McGowen.

The first change for the better, the way McGowen sees it, is competitive attitude.

“He’s been talking a lot about how we have to go out and be the aggressor and the attackers — can’t take it no more,” McGowen said of Tullis. “We’ve all got to step up and go and stay together as a team.”

Tullis knows what it’s like to be a winner at Graham. He’s been a part of four playoff teams. And in 2009, the year before the string of losing seasons began, the Falcons were 8-2 and unbeaten in the Mad River Division.

“I was looking to bring some of that back in for the kids and trying to get things back to the way that I’ve seen it before,” Tullis said, citing one of his reasons for wanting to be head coach. “The emphasis has been on improvement, building up the culture, trying to convince the kids that so much of this sport is a mental thing as much as it is physical. We have to start believing we can compete.”

Tullis said the roster has been at 30-35 players the past few years. But he and his assistant coaches (all of whom teach at the school) have been on the recruiting trail inside the school. This year’s roster has 53 names.

“Now we can practice competitively,” Tullis said. “That’s going to pay off as well.”

McGowen started at quarterback last year and mostly handed off in the Falcons’ straight-ahead, T-formation running game. He threw the ball 93 times in 10 games and ran it four times. But Tullis said the Falcons are more of a finesse team that will benefit from getting runners and receivers in space. So he brought the option game back to Graham and intends to have McGowen throw more.

“I think we’ll do good with it,” McGowen said. “We’ve got fast running backs and it’s more tricky than just handing it off and going up the middle a lot. I’m throwing a lot better and hopefully I get close to at least 50 percent completion rating this year.”

McGowen expects to throw to lots of people, but his hand-offs and pitches will mostly go to Cole Theodor (469 rushing yards in 2013) and Connor Burr (421 yards, six touchdowns).

“(McGowen) may be one of our most improved players,” Tullis said. “His mechanics throwing the ball are so much better, and he’s starting to make much better decisions back there.”

The Falcons have experience on both lines led by senior Sterling Maurice (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) at defensive end and offensive tackle and junior Allen St. Myers (5-11, 205) at center and defensive tackle. Maurice performed well at a summer showcase in Columbus and has sparked some college recruiting interest.

Theodore (5-10, 195) anchors the defense at linebacker. He was first-team All-CBC Mad River last year with 66 tackles, two sacks and three forced fumbles.

“It’s tougher in practice and the weight room than it’s been,” Tullis said. “And the kids want that. They want to be challenged, they want to be successful.”

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