Change and challenge

By BURT ANGELI

Sports Writer

CRYSTAL FALLS – Dave Graff, Bill Santilli’s right-hand man for 17 seasons, has been named Forest Park High School head football coach.

Forest Park Board of Education made the appointment this week, selecting Graff over two other candidates. Santilli, who stepped down earlier this season, teamed up with Graff since the 1996 season.

“First, a big thanks and hats off to Bill who put a lot of hard work and dedication into reestablishing Forest Park as a football powerhouse,” Graff said. “He was extremely hard working, dedicated, morally grounded and a great friend.”

Graff served as Forest Park’s defensive coordinator while Santilli directed the offense. The Trojans, who qualified for the state football playoffs from 1997 to the present, played in seven state title games.

“I am grateful for many things,” said Graff, citing the administration and board at Forest Park “who have given me the opportunity to coach, along with the other coaches who stepped up in order to form the best coaching staff possible at Forest Park.”

Graff also recognized his wife, Julie, and the other coaches’ wives who “sacrifice family time for the sake of the football program.”

He also saluted the community, teachers, past players and all who have “supported Forest Park football and will continue to do so.”

Graff, in looking at the future of Forest Park football, says two things are certain – change and challenge.

“Change in that declining enrollment and lack of numbers spelled the premature end of our junior varsity season last year, and will limit what can be accomplished on the junior varsity and varsity teams in the foreseeable future,” Graff said. “MHSAA (Michigan High School Athletic Association) rule changes imposed to limit collisions in practice will make it harder to get underclassmen and two-way players enough game speed repetition in practice to effectively execute the game plan on Friday. So therein lies the challenge.”

Graff, a 1985 Forest Park graduate, will combat those challenges by asking more from his athletes.

“For the most part, they are great kids,” Graff said. “However, they must train in the weight room and condition in the off season. They will also need to recruit their buddies.

“We will ask more from our coaches. We need to have extremely sharp practices where we instruct effectively, enabling the execution and repetition of more plays in the same allotted time.”

Junior varsity head coach Gerard Valesano will move up to assist the varsity. Junior varsity assistant Gene Giuliani will run the junior varsity program.

“I am confident in our coaching staff as they are extremely knowledgeable and will bring a lot of enthusiasm to the field,” Graff said. “Hopefully, we can instill values in the lives of the athletes, instill a work ethic and team concept in the their daily lives, and develop all their skills to the best of their ability. If we can do that we will be successful.”