Normally, an ability to catch the ball is the last thing a coach looks at when evaluating a soccer player.
When he saw Chase Graham three years ago, however, good hands were what made Warren Central coach Greg Head put him in the starting lineup and set Graham on the road to success.
Graham, a senior goal keeper, signed with East Central Community College on Friday. The three-year starter posted 22 shutouts in 59 games and had a 1.298 goals against average for his career. Not bad for someone who started out as a field player and was moved to keeper following an accidental tryout in practice.
“We were at practice one day and the goalies weren’t there. They were asking around for someone and I just went in there. It turned into what it is now,” Graham said.
Head said it was Graham’s hands and ability to hold on to the ball after making a save that gave him the idea to try the skinny redhead at keeper. Graham posted a shutout against Greenville in his first start in December 2015, and became the full-time starter as a sophomore the following season.
“One day we were playing around kicking, and I was watching him catch the ball. I said, ‘Chase, have you ever thought about being a goalie?’ He said no, but he played wide receiver in football so he had hands. We tried him at goalie that day and thought, ‘Wow, this guy has some hands,’” Head said.
The three years since have been filled with both highlights and generally steady play. Graham had 13 shutouts in 23 games during the 2017-18 season to help Warren Central win the Region 4-6A championship. In three seasons, he stopped 297 of the 352 shots that he faced.
“He’s been real important because he can make these great saves and that keeps the game close. And when you keep the game close you’ve got a chance to beat anybody,” Head said. “He’s been phenomenal, especially for someone who didn’t grow up playing goal keeper.”
Graham was selected to play in the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star Game Feb. 16 at Brandon High School, and on Friday got another nod of recognition as one of the best players in the state by signing with East Central.
“It feels great,” Graham said of signing. “This is something you look forward to your whole life playing sports, and when you finally get it, it feels amazing. It’s an honor.”
At East Central, Graham will join a sizable Warren Central contingent. East Central had six players from Warren Central on the roster last season and three will return next season. Graham will make four, and Head said a couple of others are still weighing college offers.
Graham said his former teammates talked to him a little bit about signing with East Central, but he mostly made the decision for other reasons.
“A little bit. You’re not going in with a whole bunch of strangers. At least you know a couple of people, so that does help a little bit,” he said. “It’s a good environment. When I went on the visit there it felt like home. I liked the coaching staff.”