TUSCOLA – Justin Bozarth wasn't accustomed to seeing a basketball game from the sidelines during his standout playing career at Tuscola.

Now, the valedictorian from Class of 2004 will have an exclusive sideline spot for all of the boys basketball games.

On Monday, Bozarth was named the new boys basketball coach, replacing former coach Matt Franks who left for Morton High School in April.

“I think if you poll a lot of coaches, every coach wants to coach their alma mater,” Bozarth, who continued his basketball career at Lake Land Junior College, said. “That certainly holds true for me. I had the opportunity to wear black and gold as a player, and my first head coaching position is coaching the program I played for and grew up in.

“It's such an honor to be given the opportunity to lead a program in my hometown.”

It certainly isn't Bozarth's first gig as a coach.

He was an assistant on the Tuscola girls basketball team for five years before taking over the reigns as the East Prairie Middle School coach for four seasons – which he will relinquish this summer when a new coach is in place.

But the connection to his new Warrior players goes beyond sharing the same uniform, or knowing them from junior high. He also has a relationship with each player off the court, and outside of the class room.

Bozarth is a guidance counselor at the high school, giving him one-on-one interactions with each player.

“I've got the best full time job that there is in the world,” Bozarth said. “I get to work with high school kids in my home town. I get to help prepare them for what they're going to do after high school. It's a very rewarding job.”

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“That's important for all of our coaches," athletic director Ryan Hornaday said. "We want them to be around our kids, we want them to have a good feel for our kids. We want our kids to have a good feel for who they have in front of them."

Those qualities are part of the makeup that helped Bozarth get hired over nearly 20 other candidates -- and five interviewees -- some of who are retired or current coaches.

“He was one of the faces of the program as a player,” Hornaday said. “He wants the program to succeed he wants the players to succeed."

Bozarth replaces Franks who compiled a 67-88 record over six seasons at the helm, including a 16-11 record last season.

There are plenty of things Bozarth plans to keep about Franks' tenure -- including the tenacity the players played with -- which Bozarth said he respected as an alumnus. 

His system will be fluid, depending mostly on the personnel in place. This season, he sees potential for a fast-paced, back-and-forth team that begins with defense.

Much like his work as a counselor, he hopes the off-the-court reputation of the Warriors will stand strong.

“One of the things that we'll try to do, and hopefully the public will take notice, is we're going to be tremendous leaders in the community off the court," Bozarth said. "Basketball is a tiny portion of our lives. The coaching staff and I are going to strive to not only have good players but young men."

Bozarth is married to Aja Bozarth (Kohlbecker), a former volleyball player at Eastern Illinois University and coach at Tuscola. They have three children; Isabel, 5, Mia, 3, and Lillian, 9 months.

The Warriors haven't won a regional championship since the 2007-08 season.

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