Chris Johnson and the Sierra High football program are hitting the reset button.
The Timberwovles are scrapping the spread offense that led to much success under previous head coach Jeff Harbison, who was 88-49 with two Valley Oak League championships and Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV and CIF State Division IV-A titles over 12 seasons.
Johnson is bringing the hybrid shotgun/wing-T offense that helped win him two Trans-Valley League championships and compile a 77-54 record in 12 years at Ripon, his alma mater. Johnson and the Indians have beaten Sierra twice in five nonleague contests. He’ll square off with his old school when the season kicks off on Aug. 25.
“It’s totally different from what they’ve done here,” Johnson said after holding Sierra’s first official practice of the 2017 season on Monday. “We’ll be a lot more run based and play-action based, but I’ve always felt that you should have a deep enough playbook that you could adapt it to the kids that you have every year. I’m not going to put square pegs in round holes.”
It’ll be a learning experience for his players and coaching staff, much of whom remain on board from the previous regime. Sierra alum Ryan Teicheira will serve as defensive coordinator after calling the shots for the offense under Harbison. Brothers Jay and Justin Muschott also return along with Mark Paule, Mark Rangel, Justin Silva and Tony Jimenez. Sierra grad Jesse Lopez is a newcomer to the staff, as is Loren Johnson, coach Johnson’s brother and one of his former assistants at Ripon.
“It’s really unique to start completely over,” Chris Johnson said. “I did the same thing for so long with the same guys from Ripon that it just rolled. Not only do the kids have to learn a whole new system and a whole new style, so do the coaches.
“That’s the thing about this game, it’s a constant learning process — you’re never not learning,” he added. “I really enjoy it here. I have a real supportive administration and a coaching staff has really bought in and the kids are working hard.”
Johnson and the Timberwolves aren’t completely starting from scratch. Johnson is more seasoned with an established system than he was when he first took over as a rookie coach for Ripon. He’s also walking into a program and campus with an established culture.
“I’ve stepped into Sierra territory here,” he said. “It’s been a unique learning experience, for sure. There is a ton of loyalty at this school. These guys really are Sierra blue, for sure. There’s a lot of pride here and they’ve had success. They’ve done some good things.”
They hope to continue that success under new leadership. Johnson said he likes the dedication of his players so far. It all begin in April with 6 a.m. workouts and spring football, “which I’ve never done before,” he said. The team had two weeks off over the summer, much of it spent in the weight room when most of their classmates are still sleeping. Johnson estimated that there was 80 percent attendance from all levels throughout the summer.
“The kids have done everything we’ve asked all summer and it has really been a grind,” he said. “That is where your core is formed right there.
“I’m not naïve,” he added. “I know it’s a process and I don’t know how good we’re going to be yet. All I know is that we’re 0-0. We want to be competing with Oakdale, Manteca and Central Catholic every year. That’s the goal here.”