ALVARADO — Following Jeff Dixon’s retirement, Alvarado ISD is turning to a familiar face to take over as the Indians’ new head football coach and athletic director: Casey Walraven.
After Dixon announced his retirement on April 25 following 17 successful years leading the Indians, it didn’t take Alvarado ISD long to conduct its search and decide that Walraven, a 1996 graduate of Alvarado High School and former starting quarterback for the Indians, was the man for the job.
Upon joining Alvarado ISD, Walraven — who boasts a career record of 62-45 as a head coach — will now have served as head football coach at three different schools in Johnson County.
He heads to Alvarado after five years as Cleburne’s head football coach (19-30) and boys athletic coordinator and five years as Grandview’s head football coach (43-15) and athletic director.
Walraven said he’s excited and grateful to have the opportunity to coach in his hometown.
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “That’s where I grew up. That’s where my family grew up. It’s where my wife grew up. To be able to go coach at a place where you’ve invested so much time and you know what the culture is like and you know what the town expects, it’s exciting.”
Walraven said there were several reasons he was interested in returning home to Alvarado, but one of the main reasons was to work with people he’s known for so long and believes in, including AISD superintendent Kenneth Estes, who was one of Walraven’s coaches when he played in high school, and AHS principal Chris Magee, a high school teammate of Walraven’s.
“Just to get that opportunity and to be able to go work for one of my coaches in high school and being on campus with a teammate I had who is the principal and just knowing the people I know there, it’s a comfortable feeling,” he said. “I’m extremely excited to get started and to surround myself with some more Alvarado guys and the best guys and gals we can find to fill spots.”
Alvarado ISD Superintendent Kenneth Estes said Walraven was the ideal candidate to lead Indian football and Alvarado athletics.
“We did an extensive search, looking at coaches from across the state with a multitude of experiences and a lot of success,” Estes said. “When it came down to what we were looking for, Casey checked every single one of our boxes. He’s had playoff success, had experience as an athletic director and, most importantly, he’s proven himself to be a culture and relationship builder.
“This is an exciting time to be an Alvarado Indian. I’ve watched Casey grow from being a scholar to the man he is now and I’ve always been a fan. There are a lot of former Alvarado Indians who are head coaches or coordinators across the area and we’re thrilled to have one of them coming home to coach the newest generation of Alvarado Indians.”
Even during Walraven’s coaching tenures at Kennedale, Grandview and Cleburne, he’s always maintained great pride in being from Alvarado and said he’s still waiting for it to sink in that he’ll be leading the Indians under the Friday night lights.
“I think it’s a little surreal right now,” Walraven said. “There were times where I was fortunate enough to play for a coaching staff that made me want to be a coach. And as a coach you tend to project where you’re from so in that way it feels natural. It feels like an automatic fit because I spent the entire beginning of my life there. It is a surreal feeling still but I had that feeling coming to Cleburne and had that feeling when I took over in Grandview.
“I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have people that believe in me and trust in me and hopefully each place can say, ‘He gave it all he had and his staff gave it all they had and he grew men and women to be better.’ I hope that’s what I do in Alvarado. And, obviously, we want to win as much as we possibly can. It is a special feeling when you’re putting the purple and gold back on and you know it’s home.”
Walraven said he’s also excited that his two children — Rex, a second grader, and Liv, in pre-K — will attend the same school he and his family did.
While Walraven is ready to get to work in Alvarado, he also noted it was a difficult decision to leave Cleburne. When Walraven left Grandview for Cleburne in 2017, he said then that telling his players in Grandview was the hardest part of the move — and that it’s the same thing now, having informed his players in Cleburne on Monday morning.
“I was thinking about this recently: for a while, I really felt like I wanted to work my way up and try to be a college coach but I’ve realized, especially with situations like this, that that’s not really who I am,” Walraven said. “I can’t just leave a place and break connections and forget it, like it seems how these college coaches who jump from one place to another do and there’s no emotion tied to it. This, as it was in Grandview, is a gut-wrenching thought to leave a place where I literally have put everything I have had into it.”
While Walraven couldn’t get the Jackets to the level of success win- and loss-wise that he wanted, he said he and his coaching staff worked tirelessly to return Cleburne to its strong football tradition. He also added how appreciative he is to all of his student-athletes in Cleburne that worked so hard for him, and for that, among other reasons, it was a difficult decision to leave.
“I can’t explain the amount of work and time and effort that not just me but all of the coaches have put into this place to get the culture to where the community can be proud of it,” he said. “These kids trust us and I feel like they’re my own. It makes me emotional to think about them and I’m sure it’s hard for them to understand and I don’t expect them to. They’re special to me and they always will be. They’re a part of my family.
“I’m also so grateful to the administration and how they’ve been patient with me and allowed me to do things and get it to where we need to get it. It’s hard to leave a place like that but I’m also glad I can leave this place, like I left Grandview, with great relationships with people and great memories.”
Walraven said he has the utmost respect for Dixon — both as a coach and person — and he is thankful to the Indians’ longtime head coach that he’s in a position to take over an already established program with a strong culture and work ethic, a program with championship-level aspirations. Dixon led Alvarado to the state championship game in 2011, the Indians’ only state final appearance in program history, and 12 consecutive playoff appearances.
“Coach Dixon is a monumental figure in Alvarado,” Walraven said. “What I’m looking forward most is I get to go into a place where he already had structure and culture, and I don’t have to completely build it from the foundation all the way up. There’s going to be some things I can use from what he’s already done.
“As an alumni from Alvarado — even besides me coming in as a coach — I’m appreciative for all he’s done for the school district. To be at a place 17 years these days means you’re doing something right and he did that and he was a class act through everything. I know what kind of person he is and how he represented Alvarado, and I’m grateful to him for that. For me, it’s my job to build off what he was doing and get Alvarado rolling and move into a new era just like they will after I’m done. Hopefully I can be there that long. I’m excited to get there.”
At first glance from an on-the-field perspective, Walraven’s arrival in Alvarado and the offensive schemes and philosophies he brings with him may appear to be night and day from the run-centric, ground-and-pound offense that Dixon successfully utilized for nearly two decades. But Walraven said his preferred offense is based out of a power run game.
“It’s not necessarily as big of a difference as people from the outside may see,” Walraven said. “The offense we run is a physical, power, downhill-type of run game. That’s what Dixon did a lot. They’ve always been physical up front.”
Additionally, Walraven said he will always mold his offense to fit the strengths of the players.
“With our offense, we adapt to the personnel. That’s the main thing we do,” he said. “The secret ingredient is using the talent you have. If that means running the ball 85% of the time, that’s what we’re going to do. If you’re blessed with a guy at quarterback like Zach Smith like we had at Grandview, we’re going to throw it 70% of the time. We’re going to adapt to personnel. I think Coach Dixon did a great job of that.
“It may look different and we’re going to develop things here and there and hopefully spread the ball around but we want to use the personnel as effectively as Coach Dixon did and be physical up front. At the end of the day, all these flashy offenses you see, the blocking schemes go back 60 years. No matter what scheme you have, it doesn’t replace playing physical.”
Alvarado was placed in a highly competitive district this year following the results of the UIL’s biennial realignment. In football, the Indians will be in District 5-4A Division I with China Spring, Stephenville, Waco La Vega and Waxahachie Life. China Spring is the defending 4A Division II state champion and Stephenville is the defending 4A Division I state champion. La Vega has made a couple of runs to the state championship game in recent years as well. But the positive aspect of being in a five-team district is one win clinches a playoff berth.
Walraven coached the Zebras to the playoffs in four of his five seasons at the helm, including an undefeated regular season and trip to the third round of the playoffs in 2015. In Walraven’s time in Cleburne, he coached the Jackets to three straight five-win seasons but was unable to break through and earn a playoff berth in a brutally tough district that featured the likes of Aledo, Everman, Arlington Seguin, Mansfield Timberview and Burleson.