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Unique coaching philosophy grooms talent early

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Sophomore quarterback Nick Price gets ready to hand the ball off. igh full-contact camp.


POSTED August 29, 2013 10:12 p.m.

RIPON – When Chris Johnson says he’s worked closely with Ripon quarterback Nick Price, he’s not fudging.

In some respects, Johnson has been grooming Price for this moment since he was in diapers.

“His brother Danny was the quarterback of the first team I coached here at Ripon,” Johnson said. “Nick was a toddler at the time.”

Look at him now.

The sophomore has a strong, accurate arm and the requisite competitive gene like Danny, a former Division I baseball player, with only one exception.

He loves contact.

During a broken play against Manteca High at the West High football camp, Price found himself in the crosshairs of a hard-charging lineman.

Mismatch? Hardly.

“He had no problem throwing his 160 pounds into one of their linemen,” Johnson said.

That Price has developed into Ripon’s starting quarterback as a sophomore is a testament to the coaching staff.

It’s an odd one, to be sure.

Not in personnel, but philosophy.

Ripon’s coaching tree lists just one head coach – Chris Johnson – for three levels. The rest are assistant coaches and coordinators, who coach every player at their position, from the first-year freshman to the star senior.

There isn’t a “freshman head coach” or “sophomore head coach.”

“I wish I could take credit for coming up with it,” said Johnson, whose position coaches share head-coaching duties for the lower levels on Thursday and Friday nights. “They have a saying, ‘Coaching is just plagiarism. You give credit for two years and then it is yours.’ ”

Johnson adopted the system from a coach in Georgia, who served as speaker at a clinic, and it has paid dividends. Ripon is 24-9 in the last three years, including 13-5 against Trans-Valley League opposition.

Johnson said the system better prepares his younger players for the varsity level. Incoming freshmen are allowed to work with the varsity position coaches, introducing them to the terminology and playbook, technique and expectation.

“No. 1, it allows our coaches to be very good at one thing. Instead of having to coach different positions AND being in charge of special teams, they’re allowed to dial into what they want to do at one position,” Johnson said. “No. 2, it allows our program to feel like one big program. Freshmen don’t feel like second-class citizens here because they’ve got the varsity running backs coach helping them every day.”

The investment, he says, is in the varsity product; not much time is spent breaking down film for the lower-level games. 

“It’s been a good deal for our kids and coaches. The technique. The player development. Sure, we’ve sacrificed a few wins at the lower levels because we don’t game plan or watch much film for their games, but they’ll be better varsity players. No one remembers the freshman championship you won. It’s what you do as a varsity player.”

Price is proof the system works. Johnson has managed Price’s development since the moment he stepped on campus. 

Price started for the sophomore team last fall and will be charged with filling the shoes of Kyle Wengel, who passed for nearly 3,500 yards and 47 touchdowns in two seasons as a starter.

“When I get to work with him – and every quarterback in our program – I would hope that I’d be a good enough coach that there is some development that goes on,” Johnson said.

To contact James Burns, e-mail

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