But don’t expect to see Ohatchee boys coach Casey Howell, working the referees like a season veteran of the sidelines because he’s not.
Howell, along with Sacred Heart’s Ralpheal Graves, is a first-time head coach, That means he won’t be getting his Bobby Knight on as he paces the coach’s box when his No. 14 Indians take on No. 3 Saks Monday.
“The refs don’t want to talk to me,” said the 27-year-old, who was an assistant at White Plains before heading to the Creekbank. “I’m a first-year coach. Maybe after I’ve been around for 10 years, they’ll talk to me. And that’s fine by me.”
Both graduates of Jacksonville State, Howell and Graves learned the game under the tutelage of two of Calhoun County’s finest coaches — White Plains’ Chris Randall and Anniston’s Schuessler Ware.
Howell, 27, played under Randall at White Plains before heading to Jacksonville State. Graves, who won a Class 5A state title in 2002 as a player at Anniston before heading to JSU, was a member of Ware’s staff as a volunteer assistant when the Bulldogs won the 4A crown in 2009.
“I could sense that he had the potential to be a coach,” Ware said.
“He used to do a lot of volunteer work at Carver Community Center. He’s always had an interest in working with the youth.”
It was Graves’ winning background and work ethic that wowed Sacred Heart Principal Charlie Maniscalco enough to give him his first shot at running a varsity program.
Maniscalco, who has 32 years of coaching under his belt, said Graves’ experience as a disciple of Ware and most recently Jacksonville head coach Anthony Kingston, where he spent last season as an assistant, made him an attractive candidate.
“He’s got one degree and he’s working on another,” Maniscalco said of Graves. “And he holds other jobs. He’s not just our coach. He’s just used to working. Those type of people don’t come too often. He’s worked for everything he has. He’s got class and dignity. It’s good for our kids to have someone like that as a coach.”
Kingston, an all-conference player at Jacksonville State, guided the Golden Eagles to the regional final in his second year as a coach during the 2009-2010 season. He lauded Graves for his work ethic as well.
“He knows the game,” Kingston said. “He’s going to study film. He’s going to work hard and he’s going to work with players individually to make them better.”
No. 10 Sacred Heart, was seeded 12th in last year’s tournament, has jumped out to an 11-4 start under Graves. The Cardinals face No. 7 Weaver Monday at noon.
Howell, who replaced Will Ginn at Ohatchee, said he learned everything he knows about coaching from Randall and then some.
“He taught me how to do things the right way,’” Howell said. “How to be a good husband, a good father, integrity and all the little things about how to run a program.”
Howell recalled driving Randall’s car from a camp in Tennessee to interview for the job at Ohatchee. “It was surreal,” he said.
He could tell he’d stepped into a new world the moment he took to the sidelines for the Indians’ season-opener in late November.
“It’s different from being an assistant,” he said. “As an assistant, everyone has their responsibility. As the head coach, you’ve got all the responsibilities.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.