Over the past 29 years, hundreds of student athletes have donned the black and blue of Hopkins football, and more than 50 coaches have paced along the sideline of Homewood Field. Over those almost three decades, there was one constant and that was Jim Margraff, who changed the lives of each and every one of those men that represented Blue Jay football.
Sometimes it’s difficult to grasp when you’re around a legend, but it was even more difficult with Coach. He never spoke of himself as a legend or gave himself preferential treatment; it was always about the players and the other coaches and putting them on the pedestal. He was a humble man, quickly deflecting any and all praise — and there was certainly plenty — aimed at him toward everyone else. I remember he once said that he didn’t care for any awards or recognition: All he wanted to do was to coach football.
And coach football he did. As was stated during his memorial multiple times, Coach took over a team in 1990 that “didn’t know how to win” and turned it into a national power that has come to be recognized as one of the top teams in Division-III, as he became the all-time winningest coach in Hopkins and Maryland history, all while gaining the respect and admiration of all of his players and every person he coached with or against.
As I sat amongst the hundreds upon hundreds of those very people in the Recreation Center to honor the life of Jim Margraff, it was hard not to experience a whole flurry of emotions.
I laughed at the many stories of Coach’s incredible wit.
I smiled at the recounts of Coach’s insatiable desire to win and to compete.
I cried as I heard the pain in the voice of his sons over the loss of their father.
But most of all, I felt something that Coach had instilled into the hearts of every person that had the chance to cross his path: pride.
I was proud to have had the opportunity to be around coach for the past three years and to speak with and learn from him, and as I reminisced with current and former players and coaches following the conclusion of Saturday’s memorial services, everyone felt the same.
For those of you unfamiliar with Coach, I feel sorry for you. You missed out on truly one of the most genuine and caring people you could have met. Whether it was in the way he wanted all of his players to value their education and their family above football or how he would constantly check in on anybody who was going through a rough patch to make sure that they were okay.
One of my fondest memories of Coach came during one of my own rough patches just this past October: the cancer diagnosis and eventual loss of my best friend, my grandfather. When my grandfather was given his diagnosis, my mom called Coach Margraff and asked him to watch over me, knowing full well that he would. When my grandfather passed away just days later, the first person I went to see was Coach. He already knew when I arrived, and as I came into his office with bloodshot eyes from my sobbing, he gave me a hug and sat me down in his office. He told me about his similar experience losing his father and offered any help he could. He told me to go home and be with my family, and when I told him that I would feel bad leaving the team during the middle of the week, he told me, “Your Hopkins family will always be here for you, and we will be here for you when you get back. For now, go be with your own family and take care of them.”
In terms of significance to the Hopkins football program, I’m near the bottom of the totem pole. I don’t have a defined title, I’m not involved in any of the staff meetings and you won’t even find me on the Hopkins athletics website, but Coach always made sure I felt appreciated and would remind me often just how glad he was that I was helping out the team and how thankful he was for the work that I did for him and the coaches.
Every night before I left the football office, I would stop by Coach’s office, where he was usually already back to watching film, and I would ask if there was anything else I could do for him before I went home. His response was almost always the same —“We’re all good here, my friend. Thank you.”— but that didn’t stop me from asking him time and time again, just so I could offer him some help and hear him call me his friend.
I had one person ask me following the memorial service, “How is the team going to move on from this?”
Well, to be honest, I don’t think we will ever truly move on from this. The impact that Coach had on everyone that he came into contact with and the lessons that he taught us along the way are things that will remain a part of all of us forever.
However, as I’m sure he’d want us to, we will move forward, because as everyone will tell you, Coach would always put himself last, and his family, friends, coaches and players first. He’d want us to carry on with our days as we normally would, and he’d want us to do things the way he taught us: the right way for the right reasons, always carrying ourselves with pride and with poise.
The Jim Margraff way.
Now and every day, as I make my way past Homewood Field, I look up into the heavens above and say to myself “pride and poise,” knowing that Coach has the best seat in the house to watch “good football” and is now looking down on all of the people he cared for so deeply.
Thank you, Coach. Pride and poise forever.