Over the past decade, the athletic programs that compete under the Portsmouth High School banner have been greatly benefited by its own alumni.
On Thursday, the Trojans followed that same blueprint by bringing back yet another Trojan graduate into the coaching fold.
Josh McGraw, who turned his All-State baseball acumen in high school and a successful college career at Shawnee State into a successful high school head coaching tenure at Jackson over the past six seasons, was officially hired by Portsmouth on Thursday evening as the newest head coach of Portsmouth’s baseball program.
For the 1995 Portsmouth High School graduate, the opportunity of coming back home, to the program that helped mold him into the person that the 40-year old is today, was too good to pass up.
“(Coming back to Portsmouth) feels pretty good,” McGraw said. “I felt like it was a good time to go back home. I’ve had interest in this job for a while; I just wanted to make sure that the timing was right and things like that. I’m very excited to see what I can do as far as building this program is concerned. We’ll see what happens.”
McGraw, who was hired on October 11, 2011 as Jackson’s head baseball coach, immediately breathes life into a Portsmouth baseball program that has fallen on hard times in recent years.
However, if there’s one thing that is clear about McGraw, it is that he has been a winner at every stop.
After signing with Youngstown State out of high school following a superlative baseball career that included All-State accolades, McGraw transferred to Shawnee State in his junior year and proceeded to lead the Bears to a 72-26-1 record over his final two seasons of play while batting .329 with 11 home runs and 82 RBI during his career. McGraw, who stole 19 bases in 20 attempts during his Shawnee State career, still holds the program’s all-time mark in stolen base percentage, and was part of a 1998 unit that still, to this day, holds the all-time batting average mark amongst all Shawnee State baseball squads (.389).
His coaching career, however, is arguably more sterling.
McGraw, who took the head coaching job at Jackson on Oct. 11, 2011, took over a Ironmen baseball program that had gone through five coaches in seven years and had only accumulated a 4-14 record in 2011. The hometown product, despite only having five months to prepare his unit, turned the program completely around within the calendar year by leading the Ironmen to a 15-10 record in 2012.
Two years after that incredible turnaround, McGraw led Jackson to the Division II Athens District Championship and obtained a Division II, Region 7 Semifinal berth as a result, and won Division I and II West Coach of the Year honors. McGraw also won three consecutive Southeastern Ohio Athletic League (SEOAL) crowns before the league dissolved for good.
In all, McGraw won 99 games from 2012 to 2017 — an average of 16.5 wins per season — by staying true to the fundamentals.
“It’s all about the fundamentals,” McGraw said. “Defense wins games. You’ve got to be able to catch, field, and pitch effectively in baseball. You work at all of it, and eventually, the hard work will pay off. That was my philosophy up in Jackson, and it will be my philosophy here in Portsmouth. Nobody’s going to outwork us. Win or lose, we are going to outwork every team that we play. It’s going to be interesting to instill a philosophy like that, but it can be done.”
Portsmouth, however, will be in a bit of a rebuilding mode. Five seniors, including pitching ace Ryan Williams, utility dynamos Blake Wedebrook and Ty Oliver, and Vincent Schwamberger and Mikey Potts, who each came on strong at the dish over the second half of the year, all graduate.
“Portsmouth is kind of in the same boat Jackson was when I got there six years ago,” McGraw said. “We had some good players who gelled and came together to make some good teams, and we turned it around pretty quickly. The kids put in a lot of hard work, and success comes from putting in that hard work.”
And the same amount of work going to be expected from each of the members on the Trojans’ baseball program — whether it be a freshman or a senior hand.
“I’ve had (young teams) before,” McGraw said. “It doesn’t change my coaching philosophy. I’m going to coach a freshman the same way that I’m going to coach a senior. It’s about hard work and fundamentals. You’ve got to keep practicing, keep plugging away, make kids better, and grow from there. A lot of baseball games can be won just by playing a clean game out in the field or on the basepaths. So our primary focus is going to be on the fundamentals. It’s kind of like it was here at Jackson. We tried to get better every day, and eventually, we were one of the best programs around. We’re going to follow the same philosophy. At the end of practice, we’re going to decide if we got better today or not, and if we didn’t, then it’s time to go back to work. We’re not going home. We’ve got to get better during every practice and every drill, and that’s how you become a great player.”
While the fundamentals will be stressed regardless of the situation at hand, the style of play, McGraw says, will cater to the type of personnel that he’ll have from the 2018 version of the baseball program on forward — as well as the types of matchups that will be presented to the Trojans in game situations.
“The philosophy that you enter the game with depends on your personnel, and what kids are good at,” McGraw said. “Some kids are good at different things, so you adapt your philosophy, especially your in-game philosophy, to what kids are good at with your team, as well as what you need to do to beat the opposing team. That’ll be something that I’ll come up with after I see my team and get a feel for what we’re good at.”
But now, he gets to take on that challenge of connecting the dots again — with his alma mater.
“It feels good. It just felt weird playing Portsmouth,” McGraw chuckled. “I just didn’t know what to think about it. It’ll be more exciting when I get to go down there, meet the kids, and be a part of the program. It’s going to feel normal. I grew up in the Trojan program from the time that I was a little kid. I always wanted to be a Trojan baseball player and I always wanted to be a Trojan coach. I am blessed to have the opportunity.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7