Chris Johnson will be looking into a mirror Friday night.
The first-year Sierra coach will not only welcome his alma mater Ripon to Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium, he coached the Indians for 12 seasons until 2015. In taking over the Timberwolves from Jeff Harbison this year, he will be the only third coach in Sierra history.
“This is going to be an almost surreal experience, for sure,” Johnson said. “I would be lying to say that this is not going to be a super emotional game. I have relationships with those coaches and those kids and those families. We know each other personally — I still live in Ripon — but at the end of it all the kids here are my kids.
“I have come here and I have relationships with them now. It doesn’t lessen the quality of what I had with those kids and those people in Ripon, it’s just that I am very fortunate to now be able to add to my circle. I am able to come and be part of a great place and have a new opportunity with different kids and different families. And really, I am the one who is blessed.”
Not only will the Ripon seniors be some of the sophomores who played for Johnson, Indians coach Chris Musseman was Johnson’s long-time assistant, although that is not how Johnson sees it.
“I am really excited for this,” Johnson said. “But I would not call it a teacher-pupil thing. We kind of came up together through that program. We were more like partners through the whole thing. He and I built it together. I may have held the title of head coach but I leaned on him an awful lot.
“For lack of a better term, we made our bones together in the coaching world. So, it is not a teacher-mentor thing. He is a very capable, qualified coach and does a great job with his kids. They are going to be in the right spots, they are going to play hard and put a quality football team on the field. I hope we can do the same.”
Musseman understands the hype surrounding the week-zero contest, particularly from his seniors who were previously coached by Johnson, but he’s not putting any additional weight on this one compared to the rest.
“Chris and I are good friends, and I’m sure it will be a fun thing to talk about and read about, but it’s just a rivalry for everybody else,” Musseman said. “It’s two good friends coaching against each other; one guy is not out to get the other guy.
“It’s a good story, it will make for a great Week Zero game and both schools will be into it. There will be a lot of background noise for the game, which is awesome for the kids, but it’s just another football game, in reality.”
While coaching is coaching and football is football, things are different at Sierra then they were at Ripon.
“This is a different culture,” Johnson said. “Every school you go to has its own unique culture and Sierra is different than Ripon and Ripon is different from Escalon and Hilmar and Manteca and Los Banos — every place is a little bit different.
“But when it comes down to it kids are kids. They all want to do well, they all want to please you and they all are capable of more than they think they are capable of. And our job as coaches is to try to encourage the people within our sphere of influence to reach their potential. Whether it is here or Ripon or anywhere, the mission is still the same.”
While it may sound cliché, the bottom line for Johnson is that it is all about the players.
“Year to year, the kids are different,” Johnson said. “That is what makes it so much fun. Every year I have brand new faces and brand-new people that bring their own personalities, strengths and unique gifts and that is why you can teach and coach year after year.
“If you are not in it for the people you are working with, you are in it for the wrong reason.”
Kickoff is scheduled for Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.