PDT Sports Writer
As the whistle of an unidentified coach blows during the hot Kentucky summer, a thought raced through then-Morehead State football player Jason Sparks’ head as he lined up to run 110 yards for the 17th time.
“I can’t wait to be the guy blowing that whistle one day,” Sparks said. “Right then and there, it clicked.”
The dream eventually came to fruition for Sparks, 30, who last weekend accepted the Portsmouth head football coaching position. He gave a lot of credit for his inspiration to his high school head coach, Ray Graham, for being the coach that he is today.
“Not a day in my life when I was around that man did he do anything to negatively influence anybody in our program,” Sparks said. “He never said anything negative to a way where you took it to heart. Any time he corrected, any time he coached, he always thought about the individual in mind.”
When Sparks transferred from Morehead State to Eastern Kentucky to finish his bachelor’s degree, his first job on a football staff came as a student assistant video coordinator. Even though Sparks admitted he was the fifth camera and was insignificant in the grand scheme of things if his were to malfunction, then-coach Danny Hope felt the opposite.
“Walking in the first day, it was expressed to me how important not only to make sure everybody else’s job went smoothly but how important my job was to make sure we could be successful as a team,” Sparks said.
He left after one season to join the coaching staff at Division III Albright (PA) College. He was the team’s offensive coordinator, varsity offensive line coach and co-head coach of the junior varsity squad. It was a new learning experience for Sparks but it was advice he took being in a class taught by former Morehead State coach Matt Ballard.
“One thing he said was your first coaching job, if you can, you need to go somewhere that you’ve never been before as far as coaching a position,” Sparks said. “I took that and ran with it.”
When the 2006 season concluded, Sparks attended the American Football Coaches Association Convention and blindly sent out resumes to schools. He caught the eye of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and was hired as the defensive line coach.
That season, the Bulldogs went on to win the NJCAA National Championship with six defensive players that are currently on NFL rosters. The headliner was defensive lineman Terrance Cody, who went on to sign with Alabama and is now with the Baltimore Ravens.
Sparks’ first full-time job came in 2008 when he was a defensive line coach at Division III Mississippi College. It was another one-year stint and he eventually got out of coaching.
He and his wife, Bridget, moved to Columbus as she was accepted to work on her doctorate in physical therapy. Jason wanted to get his master’s degree and teaching certification in the Buckeye State while she finished her work.
That all changed two weeks before Bridget was to start school as she had a change of heart. At that point, Jason wasn’t able to get certified as a teacher and took a job at Walmart.
“I went and watched a lot of football games at that time,” Sparks said.
Eventually, Sparks relied on an old trick that got him the job at Mississippi Gulf Coast. He blindly sent out applications, hoping one would catch the eye of a coach.
The coach who would hire Sparks was Southern Hills (NC) Pinecrest coach Chris Metzger. When the two first started talking, Sparks realized the two had mutual connections. For the past three seasons, Sparks was an assistant on Metzger’s staff, working on the defensive side of the ball.
Bridget, a Cincinnati native, expressed interest in moving closer to home and asked Jason, originally from the Louisville (Ky.) area, to find a closer job. Once more, he was on the hunt for his next step.
“I’ll be honest with you, it’s been very difficult to think about the future when you’re very happy,” Sparks said. “But you look and you know there’s something inside of you that’s wanting to move on. And when you get that calling and you’re blessed with the opportunity, you know there’s really no doubt in your mind, it’s almost like you’re closing one chapter and opening up a new one.”
Sparks received word of the Portsmouth vacancy through a contact and sent an application. The third time was a charm as this spot was a head coaching position.
Sparks came up for an interview Dec. 20 while he was in the area for a wedding. The search committee was so impressed with Sparks, who was the last person to interview for the job among the estimated 40 applicants and was picked to be in the final four of candidates.
Last weekend, Sparks was offered the job. It didn’t take long for him to give an answer back.
“My wife and I are pumped,” Sparks said. “I’ll tell you this, this goes good for (Portsmouth Superintendent) Scott (Dutey) and (PHS Athletic Director) Joe (Albrecht), I (haven’t) ever seen Bridget this pumped about something. She’s fired up and she’s a hard-charger.”
Sparks said he likes to operate a three-man front defensively and would ideally like to run the spread offensively but is willing to find the best opportunity with the personnel he has at his disposal. Although most of his experience is on the defensive side of the ball, Sparks does not know if he will coach the offense or the defense.
“The great thing about being a defensive coordinator is you get to study just about every offense under the sun because you’re playing it,” Sparks said. “You just may not know terminology. What it boils down to me is that football is football.”
He will start interviewing assistants later this year. Sparks said he wants to fill position coaches first before deciding where he wants to coach.
Sparks may be looking for a theme when it comes to his coaches in relation to the one’s he’s worked with in the past. The goal will be to compete.
“I can safely say that every person that I’ve worked for, regardless of their coaching style or their personality, they all had a deep desire to see young men succeed,” Sparks said.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or email@example.com.