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William Harrell has a full picture of the challenging job ahead but an equally-optimistic spirit as head coach at Johnson High.
He has a limited roster (34) as the first-year Knights coach adjusts with his program in the move up to Class 5A football.
Harrell’s optimism is a reflection of his past during a five-year stint at Hephzibah, which is just outside Augusta. After dropping down to Class 2A, the Rebels were playoff qualifiers in 2018 and 2019.
A late hire, in April, Harrell accepted the Johnson job right after the coronavirus lockdown took place, meaning he’s yet to scope out the school’s halls to try and lure out any additional players to help in replacing the 17 seniors who were part of its program in 2019 under then-coach Stan Luttrell.
However, the new Knights coach is not afraid to dig in his heels and try to bring a new attitude to a program, which is seeking its first playoff appearance since 2004.
Harrell insists it will take more than one year to change the program at Johnson, which has been 4-6 the past two years, but last had a winning season 16 years ago.
“I’m very excited to be here at Johnson,” said Harrell. “We’re very young but have a group of kids who are working extremely hard to get better every day.”
Johnson’s schedule will be particularly exciting on the front end with a season-opener against Cherokee Bluff on September 4 in Flowery Branch, then the Battle of Oakwood on September 18 against West Hall.
Harrell said he’s been filled in on how big it is to play against West Hall.
“If there are no other games, just give us West Hall,” he said with a big laugh.
Johnson is down one game on the Region 8-5A schedule with Eastside opting out of fall sports, while Jackson County has yet to make a ruling, according to Harrell.
The Knights’ new coach knows 2020 will be a success if they can build off any early-season achievements.
Most of all, it’s getting kids used to playing football in a new system and trying to establish a new mentality that will be the keys to Johnson’s success.
“I know when I was at Hephzibah, we had to get out of some bad mindsets,” Harrell said. “The first few years can be rough but we’ll never stop battling here at Johnson.”
Johnson’s offense is in good hands with returning starter Justin Long, a senior, taking the snaps. After a good preseason, Harrell is also confident in Michael Thurmond being able to play at quarterback.
Running back will also be a strength for Johnson with Tre Jackson and Dayshun Summerour in the backfield.
Up front, the Knights will feature Allen Gutierrez, Hunter Cain, Salvador Sanchez, Guillermo Rosales and Jesse Contreras.
Harrell said his offense is based out of a single-wing formation, but will adjust routinely into two-tight end sets or even pro-style looks.
“We want to be as multiple, as possible, on offense,” Harrell said.
On defense, Johnson will line up in a ‘3-4 pistol’, which puts an emphasis on crowding at line of scrimmage, while having three safeties roaming the secondary.
Some of the key players up front on defense will be Darrion Thompson, Bradyn Cook, Jesus Ponce and Contreras.
At linebacker, Long and Juan Allen are expected to be two of the biggest playmakers.
Johnson’s secondary will feature Nasir Summerour, Nathan Seabolt and Julian Gomez.
Returning at kicker for the Knights is Steven Flores, who booted a game-winning, 39-yard field goal last season against West Hall.
Flores will also handle punting.
1. Demetri Moon Fr. RB/DB
3. Cristian Lemos Fr. OL/DL
5. Dayshun Summerour Jr. RB/DB
6. Jud Farmer So. RB/DB
7. Michael Thurmond So. QB/DB
8. Tre Jackson Jr. RB/LB
10. Jaylon Ferguson Fr. WR/DB
12. Juan Gomez Fr. WR/DB
14. Jocsan Hernandez Jr. WR/DB
15. Nasir Summerour So. WR/DB
16. Justin Long Sr. QB/LB
17. Kevin Cervantes So. K
20. Noah Cone So. RB/LB
22. Jesus Ponce So. TE/LB
26. Benito Lopez So. K/WR
27. Nathan Seabolt Sr. WR/DB
28. Anthony Rodriguez Fr. WR/DB
32. Alonso Madera Jr. RB/LB
41. Tyler Caughron So. WR/DB
43. Andres Madera So. OL/DL
50. Bradyn Cook Jr. OL/DL
54. Salvador Sanchez Jr. OL/DL
55. Jovani Andres Fr.
56. Juan Allen Jr. OL/LB
59. Guillermo Rosales Fr. OL/DL
69. Steven Flores Sr. K
71. Darrion Thomson Sr. OL/DL
72. Hunter Cain Sr. OL/DL
74. Gunnar Gilstrap Fr. OL/DL
77. Allen Gutierrez Jr. OL/DL
78. Jesse Contreras Jr. OL/DL
81. Jake Shaw Jr. TE/DL
September 4 at Cherokee Bluff
September 18 WEST HALL
September 25 at East Hall
October 9 at Loganville
October 16 WALNUT GROVE
October 23 at Jackson County
October 30 APALACHEE
November 6 GREENBRIER
November 20 at Clarke Central