As a third grader at Enota Elementary, John Thompson says he spelled out three life goals in a paper: play football for legendary Gainesville High coach Bobby Gruhn, play football at Georgia, and become a head coach.
Little did he know at the time his childhood instinct would become a road map for his life. He was a standout for the Red Elephants in the late 80’s. And he walked onto the Georgia football team as a long snapper in 1993.
Thompson, a 1990 Gainesville High graduate, accomplished the third and final goal on that list from his childhood, when he was announced as the new head coach at Berkmar High, in Lilburn, on Monday.
Thompson, who was an assistant coach for Bruce Miller at Gainesville from 2002-2006, conducted the third and final interview with Berkmar High principal Ken Johnson and athletics director Glenn Wilson on Feb. 29.
Before accepting the position at Berkmar, Thompson was a finalist for positions at Pope High and Stockbridge High.
Thompson, 36, is currently in his second season at Valdosta High, where he served as an assistant football coach, director of football operations, head of the strength and conditioning program, and head track and field coach.
"I am very appreciative of the opportunity at Berkmar," Thompson said. "There is a lot more responsibility when you become a head coach.
"I owe a lot to the great coaches I have worked with along the way like coach Gruhn, (former Gainesville High assistant coach and former North Hall head coach) Don Golden, (former East Hall coach) Wayne Bradshaw and (Valdosta High coach) Rick Tomberlin.
Thompson learned of the coaching vacancy through his longtime friend Dave Hunter, who is now the retired athletics director at Brookwood High. He says Hunter helped lay out the pros and cons of taking the position with the Patriots, who have qualified for the Class AAAAA state playoffs three of the past four seasons.
He said the only uncertainty was going into a school that he wasn’t familiar with, but that the good outweighed the bad.
"I was told how supportive the administration is at Berkmar," Thompson said. "And based on my interviews with the school, I totally agree — they are set on doing things the right way."
Thompson met with Berkmar’s assistant coaches on Thursday morning. Then on Friday, he met with the returning Berkmar football players for the 2008 season, with more in-depth time spent talking with the rising seniors. He made clear to the veteran players they wouldn’t squander their final season away in a transition mode.
At Valdosta, Thompson helped instigate a turnaround leading them to a 9-3 record in 2007 and a trip to the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs. A trip that resulted in a No. 10 ranking in the final coaches polls. His first season, in 2006, the Wildcats finished a disappointing 1-9.
He also coached the Wildcats to a 2007 state weight lifting title, and six new national records in the Bigger, Faster, Stronger weight lifting curriculum.
"I’m going to miss Valdosta a lot," Thompson said. "It is such a supportive community — I think Valdosta gets a bad rap some times."
During his career, Thompson has coached as an assistant at North Hall (1994-1996), Wesleyan (1997), East Hall (1998), Jefferson (2000), Gainesville (2002-2006) and Valdosta (2007-2008). He also served as a graduate assistant for Mark Richt at Georgia in 2001-2002.
"I know there have been a lot of good people that have supported me along the way," Thompson added.