Full circle moment: Derek Graves takes over as head coach of alma mater Chavez football (2024)

Walking the grounds of Chavez High School feels like a full-circle moment for Derek Graves.

The Class of 2008 alum and former Kimball football head coach returned to his alma mater with the task of turning the Titans football program around. After a decade of losing, a couple of different head coaches, and a 0-10 overall record in the 2023-24 season, Graves is determined to make Chavez a competitive 209 team this season.

“This is my dream job and it was a calling for me to be here,” Graves said. “I’m gonna instill belief in these kids, a different mindset. The talent has always been here they just needed the right leadership and the right structure. They just need the right support system.”

Titans for L.I.F.E.R.S.

When Graves was a Titan his team faced a similar fate as last year’s squad. The school was just a couple of years old by then and in their first season of football, the Titans went 1-9. It was there that Graves learned how to overcome and the type of leader he would go on to be as a coach.

Full circle moment: Derek Graves takes over as head coach of alma mater Chavez football (1)

“As a player, when we did come off that losing season, we never got defeated mentally we just knew we were going to put that work in to get better,” Graves said. “We had great leadership from Coach Eric Duncan at the time and he was a good leader. That’s what’s helping me push these kids now.”

The following season Graves and the Titans went 7-3 overall notching the best record in program history to date. With the help of his new staff, he's looking to recreate this moment with this year’s squad as the school’s first alumni head coach in the program’s history. The team’s motto heading into the new season is being a L.I.F.E.R.S.

“The L stands for little things, the I stands for intensity, the F stands for family, the E stands for education/effort, the R stands for response and the S stands for success,” Graves said. “These are things we want to be known for, for the rest of our lives at Chavez and as a Titan for life.”

Incoming offensive linemen senior Isaak Quinene and junior Muaautasiinaseumalo “Josiah” Utuga have embodied the L.I.F.E.R.S. mentality throughout the offseason. Both did all they could for the last couple of seasons combing for 24 pancake blocks last year as the core of Chavez’s O-line. This year they’re pushing even harder with countless hours in the weight room, team bonding and a revitalized drive thanks to Graves.

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Full circle moment: Derek Graves takes over as head coach of alma mater Chavez football (2)

“With coach Graves, I think this year we’re going to have the best season ever,” Quinene said “He’s a younger coach he’s been in our position as a Chavez alum and what it's like to be in a losing program and kind of turn things around. That’s why I kept playing football for Chavez because I wanted to see the program change.”

Utuga, who’s been a Titan since he started playing football at six years old, hopes the team’s new leadership can mold them into a winning squad.

“Most of us, we all played together since we were six years old as Jr. Titans and the chemistry is great,” Utuga said. “We already have that brotherly bond and that brotherly love so we’re just trying to get that to translate on the field and we’ll be good.”

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Putting Chavez on the map

A key for Chavez turning the program around is establishing its offense, something last year’s squad struggled with. Two players crucial to the team’s offense are incoming freshman quarterback Elijah Walker and junior running back Izzac Tapia also known as Burrito.

Tapia was the Titans' go-to on offense on the freshman team last season and according to Graves, he will likely be the team’s starting running back in the fall. The sophom*ore is also a product of the Jr. Titans with his dad cooking for the team — usually Mexican food — earning him and his brother the nicknames “Taco and Burrito.”

Walker isn’t a Jr. Titan product but has embraced the Chavez culture as a young leader on the team already.

Full circle moment: Derek Graves takes over as head coach of alma mater Chavez football (3)

“I feel I can make a difference by helping my teammates making sure they're on top of their school work, being respectful to coaches, and just giving 100% effort every day,” Walker said. “I believe in our team. I know we can go far this year and do much better than last year.”

With Graves at the helm, the Titans are beaming with confidence ahead of the 2024-25 season, something they’ve severely lacked in the past. It couldn’t have come at a better time as the San Joaquin Athletic Association is wide open after the departure of Edison High School which ran the league for the past few years.

At Kimball, Graves helped put the Jaguars on the map holding their own in a loaded Valley Oak League against powerhouse programs like Manteca, Oakdale and Central Catholic. In the SJAA, he looks to do the same aiming for a shot at a league championship.

“I don’t fear anybody in our league,” Graves said. “At Kimball, we played bigger schools like Lincoln with 3,000 kids and championship programs like Escalon. So as a coach, I don’t fear anything and as a leader, if you don’t fear anything then the team’s going to adopt that personality.”

Record reporter Shannon Belt covers sports. She can be reached at sbelt@recordnet.com or on Twitter @ShannonBelt3. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.

This article originally appeared on The Record: Chavez football hires first alumni head coach in history Derek Graves

Full circle moment: Derek Graves takes over as head coach of alma mater Chavez football (2024)
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