COVENTRY TWP. On the field, court or track, Devon McAfee is easy to spot at a Coventry sporting event.
An assistant coach for the football team, the junior varsity coach for boys basketball and an assistant track coach, McAfee’s dreadlocks, tall stature and animated personality make him easy to locate.
What those who see him shouting to players from the sideline during a JV basketball game or watch him working with his players on the bench during a football game in the fall may not know is that not so long ago, he was wearing a tie and working in a much different world.
At the beginning of his career, McAfee worked at Timken, spending nearly three years working in an office setting before moving to another Fortune 500 company, Parker Hannifin, where he started in customer service but moved up to the engineering department and later worked in marketing.
His next stop was Liniform, where he worked while trying to stay in jobs that would also allow him to pursue coaching on the side. The early stops in his career put him on solid financial footing, but they weren’t the kinds of places he saw himself spending the rest of his working life.
It was during his time working at Carlisle Brake Friction, where he spent two years and did quite a bit of traveling for his job, that he came to the realization that it was time for a change.
“I realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be at; I just wasn’t happy and I couldn’t find a niche,” McAfee said, recalling pulling into a parking lot at work and having the realization hit him. “I was working a lot of hours and doing a lot of traveling, but I was miserable.”
Traveling gave him a chance to meet new people and visit new places, but it wasn’t until he was asked to coach his son’s third-grade basketball team that McAfee saw a chance to pursue something different.
“I had someone who told me that coaches who can talk and relate well to kids do really well and I did some research on it,” McAfee said. “I did some research on it and thought it was the perfect opportunity, so I had to decide whether to pursue that or stay in a place where I have to put in more time but wasn’t fulfilled.”
McAfee made the move to the LEAP program, an educational services organization that models its system on cognitive social learning theory, as well as cognitive/behavioral concepts. He worked at the organization’s Garfield Heights location, working directly with children from the Cleveland area who often came from difficult family and home settings.
The experience was “an eye opener” for McAfee coming from the business world, but he enjoyed the challenge of trying to be a positive influence in the lives of students.
When the chance came to get involved with youth football in Kenmore came, McAfee took the opportunity and in the process, made a connection with Jeff Skaggs, whose sons have both played for Coventry. That relationship would prove beneficial when McAfee spent a year on the coaching staff at Kenmore High School, only to see head coach Ed Peltz resign.
He reached out to Skaggs and also interviewed with Hoban coach Tim Tyrell, trying to figure out his next move.
“Between Hoban and Coventry, when I went to Coventry and talked with coach (Ed) Egan, I just fell in love with it. We spoke for an hour or two and I knew that this is where I needed to be.”
Coventry has become home for McAfee, who has spent the past three seasons as an assistant football coach, coached middle school basketball for two seasons before taking over as JV coach this season, and is entering his second season as an assistant track coach.
During the school day, he works as an attendance coordinator and in-school suspension teacher, both of which involve working with students in challenging situations. It’s those students, along with his players, with whom McAfee looks to share his knowledge from his own struggles in life.
“I made a lot of mistakes on my own personal side of the spectrum from high school all the way to being in the corporate world,” McAfee said. “Now, I’m trying to reach out to kids and help make an impact in the lives of a lot of these kids who don’t have role models or father figures or people they can talk to.”
Working as a teacher and coach involves dealing with students from a variety of backgrounds and finding ways to reach them. Understanding each student and what they’re dealing with is key, according to McAfee. Educators can face many frustrations trying to reach kids who are tough to connect with, but those who choose to work in the field have to find a way.
“I just know that at some point in time, that hard work is going to pay dividends and what matters most is helping kids be who they can be because they’re going to be our future,” McAfee said.
As a father of two - and stepfather of four more - McAfee has plenty of chances to practice his skills for connecting with children. He and his wife Sarah have a total of six children between them, so kids form a big portion of each day for him. During JV basketball games, McAfee is consistently moving around on the sideline, signaling plays, shouting directions and communicating with players coming in and out of the game.
Some coaches are loud, others are soft-spoken and reserved, but McAfee readily admits that he falls on one particular end of the spectrum.
“I’m very intense … I’m up front and I give them real life situations to talk about because the more they understand, as they become men and women, they’re going to be better people,” McAfee said.
Some day, those players and students may end up in the same corporate world where McAfee once worked. If they do, he hopes that they arrive prepared to succeed and make their own positive impact in their lives.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB