Junior Graham new football coach at Winona Christian – Jackson Clarion Ledger
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The one-hour drive from Eupora to Louisville is one Junior Graham knows all too well.
Every day for the past year, he’s made the drive down Mississippi 9 to Winston Academy, where he’s served as head football coach. This week, he’ll make that drive for the last time.
Graham accepted the head coach position at Winona Christian this past week. Sure, the move will cut his commute in half, but it makes sense for so many other reasons.
“I can honestly say I’m leaving a really good job with a really good team,” Graham said. “Winston is going to have a chance to be really good next year. The thing about Winona (Christian) that peaked my interest is they return a bunch of lettermen, a good junior class and a good ninth-grade class.
“They win consistently. I’ve watched them compete in basketball and football, and they’ve competed the way I’m accustomed to my teams competing.”
In many ways, a return to Winona is a return to the place Graham’s remarkable career began.
The 16-year veteran of small-school Mississippi football got his start as a basketball coach at Duck Hill, just 12 miles north of Winona, before the Montgomery County schools consolidated.
He worked first as a position coach at Winona, then as defensive coordinator at Weir under legendary coach Joe Lynn Gant. When Gant retired in 2000, Graham became head coach and went on to win three Class 1A titles in seven years.
From there, he went to Eupora, where he led the Eagles to 10 wins in five of eight seasons. Eupora reached the Class 2A semifinals in his second season in 2008 and lost to Bassfield in the 2012 championship.
His first season in the MAIS last year did not go as planned. The Patriots finished 1-9, as they beat Wayne Academy 75-40 in a high-scoring contest. The move to Winona Christian was too good to pass up.
“It started with the headmaster (Jimmy Pittman) here,” Graham said. “He was the man who hired me at Eupora, so I had that connection.”
Another was Shannon Self, the current defensive coordinator for the Stars. Self and Graham worked on the same staff in 1995 and had some familiarity.
That may seem small, but for Graham, it was a big deal.
“When you move from public to private school, the coaches are of similar quality, but the familiarity isn’t there,” he said. “So me having that connection with Coach Self was a very big draw.”
The Stars return 27 of 33 players on a team that finished 7-5 overall, 3-0 in District 2-AA and lost in the second round of the playoffs.
Offensive star Shaw Ferguson, who racked up 2,196 total yards and 20 touchdowns as a dual threat, will be a junior. Zack Castille, who rushed for 531 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns, will be a senior.
The biggest task will be replacing a pair of linemen who played both ways — Taylor Pickle and Kyle Wiltshire.
“The terminology will be different for the players,” Graham said. “But I’ve always been a run-first guy, and we’re going to do that here. They might be used to running out of the spread, and I don’t really do that. I’m more of a Power-I or Wing guy.”
Contact Tyler Cleveland at (601) 961-7371 or email@example.com. Follow @tylercleveland on Twitter.