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New Beechwood football coach knows pressure’s on to win state championships, nothing wrong with that

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune reporter

Their names are Bernie Barre, Mike Yeagle and Noel Rash.

“Three coaches in 50 years,” Jay Volker says with a shake of his head as the now fourth person to head up the Beechwood High School football program in just under a half-century met the press at his introductory press conference Monday.

Right away that tells you how things are different when it comes to football here in Fort Mitchell. How many high schools call a press conference to introduce a new coach? But just another given for this phenomenally successful program that has brought home 17 state championships in the last 38 seasons.

Which is why you can’t help thinking that if his trio of predecessors have already given Volker the biggest boost in this program that demands – and produces – excellence, it will offer him something else.

New Beechwood coach Jay Volker (Photo by Dan Weber/NKyTribune)

His biggest challenge.

What about that, Coach Volker, heading into what will be only his third year as a head football coach? How do you follow those guys?

His answer tells you all you need to know that Volker has a chance to join the Tiger parade and not miss a step.

“When the worst thing about a job is that they have high expectations,” Volker says of the advice he’s been given about coming here, “when the worst thing about a job is people saying they expect you to win state championships, that’s a pretty good job.”


This is something Volker, just 33, knows well. He says his “ego” may have gotten the better of him when he took the head coaching job at Oxford Talawanda two years back and thought it would be a “two- to three-year rebuild” and discovered it would be at least double that.

“I’m never going to take anything for granted anymore,” he says of the difficulties of coaching at a “pay-to-play” school where athletes must pay $1,000 to play a sport and where all bus transportation, sports and otherwise, was canceled.

That’s why for the former Elder High and Thomas More football player, the Beechwood job opening that came with the resignation of Rash after 17 years as head coach, was “a dream come true.”

Indeed. In his two years at Talawanda, his teams lost 16 games. At Beechwood, under Rash, you have to go all the way back eight seasons to 2016 to get to 16 losses.

Looking back, it was Barre who created the Beechwood program, which didn’t win its first state title until 1984, after every other small school in Northern Kentucky – Dayton, Lloyd Memorial, Bellevue and Ludlow – had already won their first.

But Beechwood had the staying power. When Barre left for his alma mater, Cincinnati Wyoming, Yeagle came on to win eight state championships in 10 times in the finals – from 1991 through 2004. Then Rash did even better, winning eight championships in nine appearances from 2007 through 2022.

Amazing stuff for a place where if the Urban Dictionary didn’t have the word “cake-eaters” a half-century ago, they’d have probably had to invent it. And now look where the Tigers are.

One number – well, two of them — kept bubbling out of the exuberant Volker on this day – “seven championships in eight years,” was his focus on Rash’s extraordinary finish and the place where he starts.

“This is an unbelievable place,” Volker said. “They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk . . . there’s a commitment to excellence.” The undergrad biology major with a master’s degree will join Beechwood’s EDGE Team for Science and he’ll talk about academics every chance he gets.

“This is the best academic school in the state of Kentucky,” he says. And now he’ll be coaching “the best student-athletes . . . It’s more than about football.”

Will there be changes in the program? Will it look different next August?

Maybe, maybe not, he says. He’ll know more after asking his coaches – he’d like all of them back if they’ll come with him – and players if “there is anything we can do a bit better? Might be a yes, might be a no . . . no reason to fix something that’s not broken.”

As Volker could see by watching his players working out below the cafeteria windows as he talked, it’s pretty much not broken. Not at a program where they’re going to install a new artificial turf football field after graduation that will be ready for next fall. Not to worry, they have a second turf field here – the baseball/softball field — he can use for summer practice.

“Friday morning at 6 a.m.,” he says he was in for his first time observing the winter workouts led by the seniors.

“They were in there to work, there was no hesitation. They didn’t care who was the coach, they were ready to work.”

There’s the key word: “work.” Football championships are not something they’re entitled to here, they understand, it’s what they work for every day.

Which is why when you get down to what his job is all about, of all the things, winning a state championship “has to be the first,” he says. But of course.

But he’ll also be asking his players “what does success mean” to them and where they’ll be as a brother, husband and father in 15 to 20 years.

Volker’s coaching go-to guy was the man he played for and coached with at Thomas More, and whose LaSalle High staff he joined for back-to-back Ohio state titles – Jim Hilvert. “A great mentor,” he says.

And even though they’re both Thomas More football alums, Volker has yet to catch up with Rash, although Noel has said in their traded voice mails that “he’s definitely going to be able to help me,” Volker says.

After the afternoon press conference, Volker and his wife, Erica, and 3 ½-month-old daughter, McKenzie, all decked out in her red-and-white Beechwood gear down to the baby Converse high-tops, were to meet the Ft. Mitchell community at 6. And that’s a key.

“You have a community that backs you here,” Volker says.

And maybe when he tells them about the community he came from on the West Side of Cincinnati, they’ll understand.

“Our Lady of Victory,” Volker says of his parish.

Should be good enough for the folks in Fort Mitchell.

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