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Mustang coach plans to simplify

Don Johnson Jr. eyes a turnaround in football


by: JOHN DENNY - Milwaukie High Schools news football coach, Don Johnson Jr., believes hes got the recipe to begin a winning tradition at Milwaukie. Milwaukie has not had a winning record in football since 1991.Milwaukie High School's football program has not had a winning season in two decades. But Milwaukie first-year coach Don Johnson Jr. says he is looking forward to the challenge of turning things around.

Milwaukie varsity teams have gone 9-46 (4-34 in league) over the last six seasons, 8-37 in five seasons under John Romanaggi and 1-9 last season under Tim Brink.

They've gone 0-14 in league in their last two seasons, their first seasons in the Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference.

Milwaukie's last winning season was in 1991, when the Mustangs went 6-4 and advanced to the second round of the big-school state playoffs, where they lost to Barlow 38-28.

'There were a lot of [high school football] coaching positions open, and there are other schools where I could have applied,' said Johnson. 'But I chose Milwaukie because of the kids here.

'Some of these guys lost every game in youth football and they've won only one game in high school. But every year, they keep coming back. They don't quit. The fact that they do that tells me a lot about their character. I think they can be successful. They just need somebody to lead them.'

Johnson says his recipe for a turnaround is 'keep it simple.'

'The one thing we're trying to do is simplify everything,' said Johnson. 'Work on the basics - blocking and tackling, and making sure we don't turn the ball over. You don't lose a lot of games if you have zero turnovers and zero penalties. If we keep it simple and don't turn the ball over, I believe we can be successful.'

Johnson added, 'I'm not saying we're going to beat Sherwood and Wilsonville right away. I've had my guys two months; Sherwood and Wilsonville have had their guys since they were eight years old.'

Sherwood was a Class 5A state finalist last year and Wilsonville advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals.

Johnson says he likes the commitment he's seen so far.

'I've had 60 to 65 kids out here every day since the start of spring ball,' he said. 'They've shown me that they are willing to work hard.'

Johnson has his charges at a five-day team camp at Gold Beach this week, where he hopes to sharpen their skills in competition with teams from Aloha and Idaho state powerhouse Capital of Boise.

Besides coaching football at Milwaukie, Johnson has signed on as campus monitor at the school.

'We'll make sure the kids understand that academics are the most important thing,' he said.

Johnson has had his share of success, both as a player and a coach. He was an all-state lineman at Corona High School in California and he helped lead his high school team to California Interscholastic Federation state championships his sophomore and senior seasons.

Johnson went on to play at Riverside City College and at Azuza Pacific University, and he played Arena Football in Portland, New York and Idaho for a combined total of six years. His Azuza Pacific team was NAIA national champion in 1998.

His coaching career began in 1996, when he served as defensive coordinator at Hug High School in Reno, Nevada. After Arena Football, he assisted in the program at Aloha in 2003.

In 2010, he returned as an assistant coach at Riverside City College, where the turnaround was like night and day. Riverside went 1-19 the two seasons prior to his arrival. They went 22-1 over the 2010 and 2011 seasons, with 22 of the players on those two teams going on to play at the NCAA Division I level.

Johnson Jr. has been around football his entire life. His father, Don Johnson Sr., has been defensive line coach for the San Diego Chargers for the past eight years, and he coached at UCLA for a decade prior to that.'

The Mustangs will find out how far they've progressed in a hurry. They play Sherwood on the road in their August 31 NWOC opener. The Bowmen kicked the Mustangs 56-0 on Milwaukie's final game of the 2011 NWOC season.