DECATUR — Coaching football is second nature to Curtis Graham.
He's moved up from the youth leagues, to a successful nine-year run as an assistant coach at East St. Louis, to a two-year stint as head coach at Normandy High School in St. Louis, where his team broke a 19-game losing streak.
Graham's next stop is in Decatur. He was approved by Decatur School Board as Eisenhower's football coach beginning in the 2018-19 school year.
Graham replaces Drew Wagers, who resigned after the season. The Panthers went 1-8 this season after back-to-back 7-4 years that included Class 5A playoff berths and Eisenhower's first playoff wins since 1992.
“All along he distinguished himself as somebody we felt like would be the right choice to lead our school," Eisenhower athletic director Steve Thompson said.
When Graham wrapped up his season at Normandy, he had 19 total football players and a 1-9 record.
"I wanted to get to a larger population," Graham said on Tuesday. "God pointed me in this direction. It wasn't anything per say bad about Normandy. I have to be where there are guys who want to be coached and play ball."
Graham is a 1993 graduate of East St. Louis, where he was part of the 1991 state championship team. That team was led by legendary coach Bob Shannon, who went 193-32 during his 20-year coaching career.
When Graham ended up as an assistant with the Flyers, he learned from Darren Sunkett, who led the team to state championships in 2008 and 2016.
Those two shaped him in his journey.
"I was able to get the best of both worlds," Graham said. "In high school when Bob Shannon was at the helm, I watched the way he worked and operated. Then to run into the likes of Darren Sunkett, that was another blessing of my journey to see two different perspectives of great coaching.
"It stepped up my hunger to be a coach to play for two great coaches. It’s a blessing."
Graham isn't worried about the success on the field. He said he knows with his style and the right assistants, the winning will come. But he wants to help the players be successful off the field as well.
“My excitement with coaching high school football is being able to reach young athletes and men, and transition them to manhood and getting off to college," Graham said.
"I can coach a ball player to play the game all day long. If they get nothing but football out of me, I find that unsuccessful.
"I'm hoping these kids feel and match that energy, even if it's five or six of them, I want them to match the energy to get ahead in life.
"We're going to win football games. If they put in the work, I'm going to put in the work and my staff is going to put in the work."
Graham is already focused on playing until the day after Thanksgiving.
“The next few years I'm looking to contend at state if the numbers are good and the community supports us," Graham said. "The administration is awesome. They have welcomed me — it's a family atmosphere. It just has to grow. With growth comes state championships."