Terrence Johnson believes that establishing a winning football program at Rappahannock County High School does not start with the size of a player or even the number of players on the roster.
“No matter what, you have to have a winning attitude,” said Johnson, who will debut as the Panthers’ head varsity coach Friday night (Aug. 27) when Rappahannock County visits East Hardy (W.Va.). “You have to develop a champion’s mentality to win.”
Rappahannock County will dress just 29 players for Friday night’s game against an East Hardy team that has developed into one of the better small school programs in West Virginia.
Only five veterans return to the Rappahannock County starting lineup — Matt Fletcher, D’Angelo Robinson, Tim Ridgeway, Matt Lombardi and Billy Hogan.
But neither that inexperience factor nor the low roster numbers drown Johnson’s enthusiasm for the start of the season.
“This is the new RC,” he said. “We want you to play. We would love for you to be here, but we don’t need for you to play. We want you to want to play. No desperation at all. If I have just 11 players, then they will be the best coached 11 players around.”
Johnson, who landed the head coach’s job a little more than a month ago, knows what it takes to build a winning program.
After graduating from Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Johnson earned a spot on the West Virginia University football team as a walk-on. He started out at safety before moving to running back. Eventually, he returned to defense.
Following his playing days at WVU, Johnson returned to Lafayette to coach the junior varsity football program. Then, he spent two years as the head coach of a middle school team. He moved to Warhill High School in Williamsburg and later to Bruton High School in York County as the defensive coordinator.
Bruton was the Virginia Division 3 state runner up last December, losing to Northside of the Roanoke Valley, 20-17.
If someone suggests that Rappahannock County will need more numbers if it ever wants to compete at the regional or state levels, Johnson will quickly point out that Bruton nearly won the state title with just 30 players.
“Size doesn’t matter,” he added. “It’s the size of the heart.”
Johnson also expects his players to attend weight room sessions and work out during the off season.
But, moreover, they need to take care of their grades.
“They will be students first,” he added.
The Panthers’ experience can be found in the offensive backfield where Fletcher, who is a senior, will return at quarterback. Ridgeway, a junior, and Lombardi, a sophomore, will be at running back. Hogan, who is just a freshman, is the starting fullback.
Robinson is the only returning lineman for the Panthers.
All five players also will start on defense.
Offensively, Johnson plans to give the opposition multiple looks. Defensively, because Rappahannock County does not have much bulk, it will need to using a blitzing strategy.
“We need to remember the details,” Johnson said. “Fundamentals. We need 11 players to do their assignments.”