As a student at Kewanee High School, Francisco (Franky) Grajeda never imagined the school would ever get a soccer team.
Now as the KHS soccer program heads into year three of its existence, Grajeda will take over as head coach, following the resignation of Kurtis Smyth last month.
Since its establishment nine years ago, Grajeda has been a coach, board member and director of the Kewanee Soccer Club, which is a youth traveling soccer program in Kewanee.
“I have been coaching for nine years and working with the youth in Kewanee,” the 2004 KHS graduate said. “After we knew there was a possibility we would have a soccer program at the high school, that was when we created the soccer club. There’s not many people involved in soccer in town, so we try to encourage people to get involved.”
Grajeda, 32, is familiar with most of the players on the team, since most of them play for the KSC.
The Boilermakers went 4-12 in their first year of existence in 2016 and 9-11-1 in year two. While six seniors graduated from last year’s team, leading scorer Santos Contreras will be back for his junior season.
“He’s a talented player,” Grajeda said of Contreras. “We need to get some work around him, so he can work better. With a talented player like him, we need to encourage him to lead the team and teach the kids that don’t have as much experience as him.”
Grajeda was a talented player in his own right growing up and even played on an amateur team. The former midfielder wants to focus on making his teams fundamentally sound.
“In my coaching experience, I have been studying all of the positions and all of the fundamentals,” he said. “We need to work on some fundamentals, it will be very important for the team.”
Grajeda sees speed as the strength of the young Boilers and wants to see them play aggressive at all times.
“We have some pretty fast people on the team. I think we can be the kind of team that can recover the ball fast and we can attack fast,” he said. “I want my teams to be aggressive all the time. Not dirty, people sometimes confuse dirty with aggressive, I just want them to play aggressive all the time. I always tell my players to be aggressive, because as soon as they become passive, that’s when you pay for your mistakes.”
The new KHS coach is tempering expectations for this upcoming season, but sees a bright future ahead for the KHS soccer program.
“I will not put limits on the players, but I think we may struggle a little bit this next season,” said Grajeda, stating they’ll be one of the younger teams around. “But the following season, I think we’ll be at a point where they’ll have more experience with me and they’ll be used to a new coach, new ideas and new thoughts.”
“I want to win regionals and reach sectionals and be a competitive team in the area,” he added of his future goals.
Kewanee’s first game of the season will be Aug. 20 against Limestone. KHS will be playing home games at Northeast Park for the second year in a row.
“I want to say thank you for all of the support in town,” Grajeda stated. “I have a lot of people that have been supporting me and that have been helping soccer grow in Kewanee. The same way we are proud of Kewanee, we’re gonna represent that pride with the high school soccer team.”