By VINCE PELUSO
Steve French has been coaching basketball in Ashtabula County for six years.
He sat on Ryan Fitch’s bench at PV for a few years before coming over to Jefferson to reunite with Jeremy Huber as his varsity assistant.
Now, with Huber taking over as Jefferson’s principal, French will get the chance to put his own stamp on a program as he takes over the Falcons program this year.
“It’s nice to have a familiarity with these Jefferson guys, there’s not much of a learning curve on either end,” he said. “This summer has been good, our attendance has been great and the guys bought into everything we’re doing. They’ve all showed up to summer league and camps. In three years, this has been our best summer.”
The 2005 Pymatuning Valley graduate who played for Huber before coaching with him, said learning under guys like Huber and Fitch (now the coach at Champion) was a great benefit to him as he gets his first shot as a varsity head coach.
“Jeremy’s a great guy to learn from, he’s a fierce competitor who works very hard and puts in a lot of time,” he said. “People don’t always see it but I couldn’t have asked for a better guy to learn the ropes from.
“Ryan Fitch is a guy I learned a lot from. He’s got a little different style, he’s a great Xs and Os guy. He’s got a great mind for the game and is a good scout. He brought some others in that I got to see and it was great to have some time with him also.”
Huber said he believes French is more than ready for this opportunity.
“Steve coached with me at PV, he sat on Ryan’s bench and Ryan was a standout in college who had success then he sat on our bench for two years so he’s got a lot of experience,” he said. “The funny thing about him, he puts a lot of time in on a volunteer basis, I think he puts in more time than a lot of head coaches. He sincerely likes it. I’m excited for him.
“He wants to do it, he puts in a lot of time in the summer. That’s important because basketball is selfish in terms of time so I think he’s up to that challenge.”
For French, coaching has never been about money, but his passion for the game and a love of coaching.
“I think if you want to be truly successful you have to be willing to work at it and, for me, it’s never been about the paycheck, and it never will be,” he said. “That’s not the important thing. Helping the kids and watching them grow and succeed is what’s most important.”
French believes his JV coach, Robert Faulker, who coached Jefferson’s junior high last year, shares a similar passion that will be good to have on staff.
“That’s another guy that puts in a ton of time,” he said. “He was at every single varsity and JV practice and game last year even though he was a junior high coach. To have him at JV will be great. He’s intense and brings a lot of fire.”
Huber also thinks that having Faulker as the JV coach will be a benefit to French.
“It’s nice having Robert Faulker as the JV coach because just like Steve, he has a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “Robert coached at PV for a lot of years, he loves the game of basketball. I think the kids are lucky to have two people coaching that are willing to open the gym, take them to camps in Erie, Youngstown, Cleveland, wherever. They’ll work hard.”
French said he likes the team he’s inheriting.
“The nice thing is I think we have a good amount of experience and we’re still pretty young,” he said. “Dave (Chase) getting hurt slowed things down last year but if everyone is healthy, I anticipate having a very good season.
“I don’t think the style will change much, it’s proven. I’ll put my own twist on some things I might do, we might do some different things on offense but defensively things should stay the same.”
While he admits his wife Michelle was a little tentative about the new time commitment he would be putting in as a varsity coach, French said he knows he has her support.
“She’s used to it, at first it was a little tough (convincing her) because it’s so much time but she’s a great supporter,” he said. “She likes to go to games. She’s actually taking a liking to basketball, she didn’t know much about it when we first met. I know I can count on her.”