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5 things to watch in 2021 Johnson High School football season
Johnson football
Johnson High football players go through drills July 16, 2021 in Oakwood. Photo by Bill Murphy

William Harrell knows a thing or two about challenges. 

The second-year Johnson coach has weathered many throughout his career, especially when it comes to building up young athletes through football.

Despite these challenges he never wavered or flinched. His mission and focus is to always work with what was in front of him at the moment. In taking the job with the Knights in 2020, things became challenging quickly for the new football coach.

His first season, when he couldn’t even meet with players until June, resulted in an 0-9 mark. 

“The timing was difficult,” said Harrell of coming in during a pandemic. “Within the week of the lockdown, the previous coach left for another school. Many of the players questioned who was going to be the next coach. The impression was that the coach was going to be there for more than one year.”

Harrell’s vision is to stay at Johnson for the long haul. He’s built a successful program before, taking Hephzibah to back-to-back playoff berths at the end of his stint from 2015-19. 

He knows the work ahead comes with trust. 

He has already exceeded some of it while returning for Year 2 in Oakwood. 

“I commend those that stayed and the coaches who hung in there,” Harrell said. “The biggest thing is getting connected with the players who were not here. I didn’t have any chance to build equity with them. I had to understand their viewpoint and vantage point.”

Things will, again, be challenging or Johnson in 2021, playing in Class 5A and fielding a roster of 18 players. 

2021 schedule

  • Sept. 10 EAST HALL
  • Sept. 17 Eastside*
  • Sept. 24 LOGANVILLE*
  • Oct. 1 at Walnut Grove*
  • Oct. 15 at Apalachee*
  • Oct. 22 at Greenbrier*
  • Oct. 29 at West Hall

*Region games

T is for building trust

Trust is one of the biggest focus for Harrell. 

There was so much movement and previous commitments the players were all in at one point. 

Now, Harrell is looking to build trust with the current players and those who are on the fence about playing. 

This is a challenge he is embracing fully. Johnson football, like many schools its size, share athletes with other sports. 

When Harrell arrived in 2020, he was Johnson’s third head coach in three years. 

“You can’t bake a cake without the ingredients,” Harrell said. “It will take a process.”

Daily consistency

Building consistent habits is part of a winning culture. 

Consistency comes with the coaching staff. 

Harrell wants to be at Johnson for a long time. 

He knew coming in this was not just a passing-through situation. 

His desire is to see the football program build consistency and some winning seasons. 

There needs to be an increased level of continuity with the young people on the Oakwood campus. 

“We still have to show them we care about them,” Harrell said. “If they give football the opportunity or not.”

Getting a win

Winning is contagious. So is losing. 

But Harrell knows getting wins at Johnson will take combining the first two things above. 

Completing those two tasks at the start will not guarantee wins, but it will show the program is headed in the right direction. 

Harrell has experienced a losing season before. He also knows what it takes to get a program back in the win column. 

The hurdle for the Knights is being a Class 5A program with Class A participation numbers on the football field. 

“We’re not playing with the same cards everyone else is playing with,” Harrell said. “We’re improving from where we are every single day. We’re going to try to exhaust every possible option. We’re not going to make any excuses. We are going to face challenges and we’re not going to run away from anything.”

Who takes the lead?

Whenever it comes to building a program, some of the most important pieces of any team is senior leadership. 

Harrell has found a set of seniors who are working hard to be the brick layers for a strong foundation in the future. 

He has seen how they have developed mental toughness and the daily work from a year ago. 

“Our guys are looking to put in 110% regardless of what is going on,” Harrell said.

Exposing student-athletes to the game

Despite all the other hurdles, Johnson’s coach may have confronted in his first year, Harrell understands he needs to provide exposure to football to the masses. 

In the spring, nearly 40 players gave the game a try, after talking to Harrell. 

However, those numbers dwindled because some were not interested in football. They went on to get summer jobs and some just did not understand the football terminology. 

Many were overwhelmed by the 10-day spring football session. 

“We want to prepare them for life after high school,” Harrell said. “We are trying to build their character. We just have to continue to chop wood and continue to build.” 

His most satisfying moment is the when the players hold themselves accountable for how they carry themselves. 

“The report to the public is the wins and losses,” Harrell added. “That is not my personal report card. “My personal report is how I have influenced the players throughout my 16 years.”

2021 Roster

7. Michael Thurmond QB/DB Jr.

8. Trey Jackson RB/LB Sr.

11. Jud Farmer WR/DB Jr.

13. Greyson Higgins QB/DB So.

15. Angel Hernandez WR/DB So.

17. Leyla Kuznicki K/P Sr.

27. Henry Yanez WR/DB So.

28. Linus Griffith WR/DB So.

32. Alonso Madera RB/LB Sr.

37. Tatyon Dean WR/DB Fr.

54. Erick Alvarado OL/DL So.

55. Mauricio Zaragoza OL/DL Jr.

56. Juan Allen OL/DL Sr.

59. Guillermo Rolases OL/DL So.

60, Bradyn Cook OL/LB Sr.

77. Alan Gutierrez OL/DL Sr.

78. Jesse Contreras OL/DL Sr.

81. Jake Shaw TE/DL Sr.

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