Veteran coach Ray Graham uses Bible history to teach life lessons
By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
CYNTHIANA, Ky., — It’s hard to believe Ray Graham is 66 years old. As the Harrison County Thoroughbreds go through a pre-season practice, Graham seems to be everywhere.
He’s clapping. He’s exhorting. He moves from station to station and takes time to show his players how he wants things done first hand.
That’s Ray Graham, now in the second year of his second stint with the Thoroughbreds.
“He doesn’t like to lose,” smiles senior linebacker Cameron Covington. “Two years ago, we didn’t win a single game. Coach Graham came in and installed a plan and great motivation. Our mindset just changed.”
The slogan became a staple around Harrison football the first time Graham arrived in Cynthiana 35 years ago. “My dad is an alumni from here, so I have heard that DTF-DTV all my life,” Covington says. “I have lived and breathed it.”
It has been a story I wanted to explore for years. I first noticed “DTF-DTV” when Harrison and Anderson County, which I covered for The Anderson News, became district rivals in 1997. They played every season through 2006, with Harrison winning every one. But when Kentucky went to six football classes — up from four — the following season, the teams went their separate ways and have not met again.
I’d seen patches or decals in tribute to players or coaches. I’d seen slogans or words on helmets or jersey sleeves, but had no idea what DTF-DTV meant. I figured the “D” was for defense, but that’s it.
Determined To Fight! Dedicated to Victory!
It’s a slogan that is an extension of Ray Graham’s life and one he formulated during his own personal Bible study.
Graham says it came to him in 1982 while coaching at Rowan County.
He’d started reading through the Bible yearly after graduating from Morehead State University. “I have done it every year for a long time,” he says. “In 1982, it was my third year at Rowan County before I came to Harrison. We had a big game coming up with East Carter. They had won the district my first year there. We had won the district my second year. So it was going to come down to us and them again. They were like a four-touchdown favorite. They had a real nice quarterback. So we were not supposed to win that one. East Carter had an outstanding team.
“I was really searching my Bible for something. The whole team would come to (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) meetings in those days. If I had an inspirational-motivational type talk with the team, they would all come. So I was praying and reading through four or five Bibles. I couldn’t tell you how many I had laying out there but I had several. I would do a word search or had a Schofield Bible that if you found that word, it would refer you to somewhere else.
“After going from one chapter in one book to another, here, there and around, the message started coming to me. The Israelites were leaping for joy because they were determined to fight and dedicated to victory. That hit me right in the heart.”
That week, Graham’s Rowan County team pulled off a surprise with a big win over East Carter. “I think it was 35-7 or something like that,” he recalls. “It was 7-7 at one point. They were ready to score and we got a big sack. All of a sudden, we just took control of the game.
“That was such a pivotal time in my coaching career.”
While Graham says his conclusion came from studying several passages of the Old Testament, it appears II Samuel 6-8 carries many of the traits to which Graham refers. And he brings those attitudes to life through coaching.
“It’s because of how he acts and his spirit,” says senior linebacker Javonte Shields. “When he talks about ‘this book,’ we all know what book he’s talking about. It’s the Holy Bible. That is where he gets all his spirit from. What he tells us to motivate us comes from the good book.”
Two years ago, Harrison finished the season at 0-11 and ran a losing streak to 15 games. In fact, since Graham left The Hilltop following the 2007 season, when the Thoroughbreds went 10-4, Harrison had not posted a winning record. According to the KHSAA website, Harrison did finish 6-6 the next year, but never even made .500 after counting playoff games until last year.
“Everything was just flipped upside down, sir,” says Harrison’s senior defensive end-tight end Larry Ritchie.
The Thorobreds captured a district championship by winning a three-way tie-breaker with Holmes, which defeated Harrison, and Scott High, the pre-season favorite.
“It was a tremendous thrill to win the district,” Graham remembers. “We won by one point (19-18) over Scott High. They go for a two-point conversion and we stop them. Then they go for a two-point conversion at the end of the game and we stopped them. If you think about all the reasons why we stopped them and you start thinking about it and realize either one of those two plays could have gone either way except that we had someone who did a great job. Someone made a great tackle on the first one. On the second one, we had a guy who was going to contain rush but he saw what was going on and he knew it was going to be a screen (pass), and he went out there and barely tipped it.”
Harrison eventually advanced to the second round of the state playoffs before losing to Ashland Blazer.
“It was the team attitude,” Shields says. “That came with Coach Graham. That team spirit came with Coach Graham.”
DTF-DTV! Determined to fight! Dedicated to victory!
“You have probably taken a test when you knew the material and you knew you would probably make an A and you couldn’t wait to take the test,” Graham explains. “You have probably taken a test when you dreaded it because you weren’t prepared.
“When I came to Harrison County, it became DTF-DTV. I have been able to teach that and that is what I have been teaching here at Harrison County. All for one, one for all. DTF-DTV.”
Graham saw the results several years ago when a young man who had played for Graham at Harrison, died of a drug overdose. “I had tried to intervene in his life, but he had an overdose. It was tragic. It was just tragic. He was buried in his jersey with that DTF-DTV.”
Graham, an ordained minister, was asked to speak at a funeral where many of the audience wore those same maroon jerseys. “I said, ‘Guys, you know we are the kind of people that the Bible talks about a friend that is closer than a brother because of what we went through together.’ It wasn’t choreographed but we had 25-30 kids there in those jerseys. They said, ‘For life.’
“I have always remembered that.”
After that first stint on The Hilltop, Graham helped his friend Paul Rains as an assistant coach at Lexington Christian Academy, where they won a state championship in 2010. When Rains moved on, Graham was pegged to guide the Eagle program, where he stayed four years before moving back to Rowan County for two years. He then Georgetown College as an assistant for two seasons before returning to Harrison in 2018.
During that time working with Bill Cronin at Georgetown, Graham was talking to a deputy sheriff while stopped at a country store. The growing drug problem came up and Graham began to feel the pull back to the high school ranks.
“I got to thinking if I can teach some of these kids that we are a team and we are a team for life, that we are a team and that we are a team for life,” Graham says.
Graham has seen through his 40 years on the sideline that a Christian teacher/coach has a fertile mission field even when limited in what they can do with a team. He says there were some complaints when he was praying with his Rowan County team in his second stint there and he says he faced allegations that he forced kids to attend FCA camp, a charge he denies.
He says those are the only times he has faced any thing that questioned his open practice of his faith. Now, however, when there is prayer after a Harrison practice, it’s the kids leading.
And when Graham prays, he prays he can make a difference in lives. “So much is
different today,” Graham says. “With the internet, the world is right there on their phone. You can get addicted to all that social media stuff and they can’t interact with people.”
DTF-DTV is simply applying a biblical principle to football and life.
“There was a crystal clear message that the Israelites were leaping for joy. They were ready.” Graham says. “I believe nothing great is accomplished without enthusiasm. You aren’t going to get anything done without hard work. Don’t be a cop out. Don’t be a drop out. Be an all out.”
Covington says the effect is real. “It motivates me in a way I can’t explain,” he says.
And Ritchie, his classmate, says it carries over from the football field to life. “To me, it means I am going to bust my butt every single play, no matter what. In a game, in practice, everything.”
Determined to fight, dedicated to victory!