June 24 Flowery Branch
June 27 Banks County
July 1 Chestatee
July 4 East Hall
July 8 Commerce
July 11 Gainesville
July 15 Dawson County
July 18 Buford
July 22 Habersham Central
July 25 Lakeview Academy
July 29 Jefferson
Aug. 1 North Hall
Aug. 5 Jackson County
Aug. 8 Riverside Military
Aug. 12 Lumpkin County
Aug. 15 West Hall
Aug. 19 White County
OAKWOOD — Johnson High football coach Paul Friel is a forward thinking kind of guy. He’s more concerned about thinking about the possibilities the upcoming season has to offer, instead of dwelling on a disappointing 2008 campaign. He knows looking back doesn’t do anyone associated with the Knights’ program any good.
"That’s why you have eyes in the front of your head, instead of in the back," Friel said.
Right now, his biggest tool to getting in the football frame of mind is the hours players spend each morning working out and running as a team, since practicing and hitting in full pads and helmets isn’t an option yet. Like most schools, Johnson is setting that benchmark and building optimism for the 2009 season with these weeks of summer devoted solely to getting bigger, stronger and faster.
This summer, the Times’ sports department will take a look at each area school’s football program to see how they use the summer to prepare for the upcoming season.
In the big picture of things, Friel wants his players to understand the future rewards, namely wins on Friday, that can come from being on campus working out four days a week at 7:30 a.m. sharp.
But the glory of Friday nights doesn’t come without sacrifice. He gives the added responsibility of working out to players within small groups, making sure each player is at practice on time. If one member of the group isn’t prompt, they all pay the price with extra drill work.
"The summer is all about commitment and accountability," said Friel. "Building team chemistry is big during the summer."
The tangible signs of a strong start to the summer are all positive for the Knights as of now. They’re averaging 55-60 players in the weight room each morning, which is leaps and bounds better than the 30 or so players they finished the 2008 season with.
Johnson’s coach says there hasn’t been any resistance to the stringent workout schedule that runs Monday through Thursday each week, except for designated weeks off sanctioned by the GHSA. The Knights’ seniors have the greatest sense of urgency to turn things around, having never experienced a winning season in high school.
"Everyone is focused and pumped up to be working out together," Knights senior quarterback Anthony Prophet said. "We’re pushing each other all the time to get better."
"It’s not hard to get here every morning for workouts" Johnson senior lineman E.J. Wright added. "We know the coaches are just trying to make us better as a team."
In addition to team turnout, team lifting numbers also bear witness to the success of the 2009 summer for Johnson’s football program. This year, the Knights have nine players that are in the 1,000-pound club (bench press, squat and power clean combined). Senior linebacker Gilberto Espinoza is the team leader as the only 1,100-pound club member on the team, and senior defensive lineman Caleb Jackson isn’t far behind with a total of 1,065 pounds.
Last season, Jackson says the Knights lacked a 1,000 club member. "What we do in the weight room is all about building strength and developing technique for the field," Jackson said.
With a productive summer under way, expectations are starting to turn in a positive direction. They don’t see why this can’t be Johnson’s season to shine, even playing in the same subregion with defending Class AAA state runner-up Flowery Branch and defending Region 7-AAA champion and state quarterfinalist Gainesville.
"This is great to see everyone coming together as a team," Prophet said. "Playing as individuals can bring a team down faster than anything."