Holbert came from Phoebus to become Grafton defensive coordinator

There’s a lot of talk about how difficult it could be for Bay Rivers District football programs to play former AAA powers in the playoffs in the new Virginia High School League classification system. And while it indeed could be years before the district’s Class 4 schools are competitive with the likes of a Phoebus, Grafton High helped itself recently by hiring one of the Phantoms’ longest tenured assistants, James Holbert, as its new defensive coordinator.

Holbert was part of the Phoebus coaching staff for 12 seasons, during which he helped the program win six AAA Division 5 state titles. Holbert helped coach the Phantoms’ legendary stable of running backs, but was more often involved with the linebackers and defensive backs on defense.

He was often the eye in the sky for Phantoms’ coaches Bill Dee and Stan Sexton, relaying suggestions to them from his perch in the press box. New Grafton head coach Matt McLeod said Dee is one of the reasons Holbert will be coordinating the Grafton defense.

McLeod talks about why he became Grafton football coach

“I was looking for the most experienced coaches I could get,” said McLeod, a former William and Mary defensive coordinator hired by Grafton in July after three seasons at Deep Run High near Richmond. “I talked to Coach Dee and he said that Coach Holbert had the attributes to coach the defense, so I flipped over to (offensive coordinator).”

Holbert said that Dee called and suggested meeting with McLeod. Holbert said he thinks the move to Grafton should work out well because he’s building a relationship with McLeod similar to the one he had with Dee.

“Coach Dee wasn’t only a good coach, he was a close friend,” Holbert said. “I feel it will be the same with Coach McLeod.

“As the kids say, `I’m feelin’ the love.’ ”

Practice opened at Grafton on Monday and Holbert sounded optimistic after morning session.

“They’re working hard and they’re good kids,” Holbert said. “We just have to coach them up.”

The Clippers open on Sept. 6 against Hopewell at Bailey Field.

McLeod tells his players about expectation