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SOU promotes Gravelle to defensive coordinator

When James Gravelle returned to his alma mater last year following a coaching journey that could be traced back to his departure in 2006, he brought with him an attention to defensive detail that was instrumental in getting Southern Oregon University back to the NAIA football title game.

In Ashland, Gravelle believes he has found home again. And in Gravelle, Raiders head coach Craig Howard believes he has found a natural fit for the defensive coordinator position, making the change official about two months ahead of fall camp.

Of Gravelle's 18 years of experience, the first chunk was accrued at SOU from 1997 to 2005 as a secondary and special teams coach, and last year he oversaw the Raiders' safeties, kickers and punters. He'll take over for Berk Brown, who recently accepted a job at St. Mary's School in Medford after serving as SOU's defensive coordinator for the last three years and being on staff for the last nine overall.

"I'm beyond honored to give back to a program that gave me my start and to continue to grow the core values Coach Howard has bestowed upon his program," Gravelle said. "I'd like to thank Coach Howard for the magnetic opportunity to take the reins of his defense. It's something that has been a dream come true to come back and coach at my alma mater, a special and dear place that I've always considered home since stepping foot on this campus in 1995."

Howard expects an easy transition for a defensive unit that returns seven starters from last year's team.

"We're going to expect a lot from our defense and I know it's in good hands," Howard said. "(Gravelle) made an immediate impact as a positional coach, and with everything he touches, he tries to do better than it's ever been done before."

A coastal product of Coos Bay and Marshfield High, Gravelle transferred to SOU from College of the Siskiyous and played two seasons for the Raiders before joining the staff and obtaining a degree in Health Promotion Fitness Management. While serving under head coaches Jeff Olson (for eight years) and Shay McClure (for one), he helped SOU's defensive backs land on NAIA All-America teams or receive honorable mention six times. Under Gravelle's tutelage in 2015, junior safety Julius Rucker became an All-American — making him the first defensive back to do so since Gravelle's first stint — and senior Thomas Giddens led the nation in yards per punt.

In 2006, he spent a season at Bethel College (Kan.) and instructed two more All-Americans while helping the Threshers to an NAIA playoff appearance. After that, he made brief stops at College of the Siskiyous (as a defensive coordinator) and Mayville State (N.D.) before settling in at Humboldt State (Calif.) from 2010 to '13 as a secondary coach and special teams coordinator. The Lumberjacks secondary ranked first in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in pass defense and pass-defense efficiency in 2010 and '11, and in four years Gravelle coached nine All-GNAC defensive backs, three All-GNAC kickers and two All-GNAC punters.

Following a year off from coaching in 2014, he was lured back to Ashland.

"I was absolutely blown away when I stepped on campus over a year ago and saw the buy-in from the players, parents, students and community," he said. "It makes me very proud to be a part of such a special time in Raider history. Watching SOU from afar after I left, I was very proud of how far this athletic department grew under the leadership of (athletic director) Matt Sayre and the 180-degree turn the football program made under Coach Howard's vision, plan and leadership."

Gravelle was also reflective about his past at SOU: "If it wasn't for Jeff Olson's mentoring, friendship and willingness to take a chance on me as a young coach in 1997, I wouldn't be in this position today. I have a lot of gratitude for the people who have helped shape my career over the last two decades like him, (former defensive coordinator) Jeff Weiss and (former athletic director) Monty Cartwright."

Cartwright tapped Gravelle to be SOU's head softball coach when the program was revived in 2001. In three years his teams went 81-43, giving him the second-highest winning percentage (.653) in team history, and SOU won its first Cascade Conference title in 2003. He led the Raiders to a No. 16 ranking in the NAIA polls, a feat that had gone unmatched until 2016, and an appearance in the NAIA Western Regional tournament.

As a defensive coordinator, Gravelle will employ a philosophy similar to the one that has already been put in place.

"We'll be an attacking, swarming defense that gang-tackles and makes big plays," he said. "We'll keep things simple and play fast, using multiplicity with simplicity to be aggressive, creative and form a sound defense."