Ex-Central assistant coach Craig takes over program at Oakwood

Ex-Central assistant coach Craig takes over program at Oakwood

FITHIAN — When Oakwood football needed a new head coach after the 2015 season, school officials ultimately turned to Champaign Central assistant Wade DeVries.

Almost three years later, the Comets are traveling down that same path.

Al Craig, a Maroons assistant and Monticello graduate, is set to become Oakwood's next football coach. His hire is pending school board approval at Wednesday's meeting.

"I'm pumped, man," the 30-year-old Craig said. "It's been a whirlwind couple weeks. I came into the summer thinking I was coaching at Central. Now I get to run my own thing, and I'm really excited about it."

This is the first head coaching position for Craig, a 2006 Monticello alumnus who played football for both the Sages and Eastern Illinois. After some time working the sidelines in the Central Illinois Youth Football League, Craig joined coach Brett Roberts' Central staff in 2012 and stuck around under Nate Albaugh for five more seasons.

Also with the Maroons during Craig's time was DeVries. He gave Craig a ring after accepting the head football gig at Roxana in May.

"(Oakwood officials) were really happy with what Coach DeVries had done," said Craig, referencing a 10-9 record with one playoff appearance. "They kind of wanted somebody that would pick up the ball where he left (off). We're cut from the same tree, I guess you could say."

Oakwood principal Tim Lee said that while DeVries' departure came so close to summer workouts, he and others involved in the hiring process weren't seeking a DeVries clone.

"They have the same basic offensive philosophy," Lee said. "We weren't going in looking for that. We were just looking for best candidate to pop up, and this happened to be Al."

Craig directed both the Maroons' offense and defense while at different points being the co-head coach of Central's freshman and junior varsity squads. He said his focus is serving "the whole athlete" by paying attention to academics, community involvement and "transformational coaching instead of transactional."

"I want to be big on, the kid knows that I'm there for them and not there to gain from them," Craig said. "I'm here to serve the program 100 percent."

Craig already has observed some of his new club's weightlifting sessions and described the athletes he's spoken with as both happy and relieved with Craig's pending appointment. The latter feeling comes from Craig boasting similar on-field expectations to DeVries.

But Craig's first goal is to improve upon what DeVries did in two years with the Comets. The new coach will get rolling with that mission on Aug. 24, with a home tilt against Watseka/St. Anne.

"It's nice to get back into that small-town mentality where everybody's excited about football," Craig said. "It makes me excited even more. I've met some of the popele in town, and they're pumped about it."

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