When Jeremy Johnson saw the head football coaching job open up at Newberg High School, he also saw an ideal opportunity for both himself and his family. Having been the head coach at Lincoln High School in Portland the previous three years, he'd grown accustomed to the city lifestyle -- but Newberg seemed like a good fit from both a football program and community standpoint.
With the departure of influential coach Kevin Hastin to Sherwood High School, Johnson takes over a Newberg program that's on an upward trajectory, hoping to vault the Tigers into the state's upper echelon.
"The Lincoln community is filled with amazing people," Johnson said following a workout with Newberg football players on July 8, walking around the NHS campus with his three young children in tow. "I'm very thankful for the years we spent together, building back up a Lincoln program that everyone wasn't sure would be viable anymore. The discussion with my family has been where do we want to be as our kids are getting older, and how we can surround them with a combination of opportunities and space. When this Newberg job came open it seemed like a great fit."
Newberg went 2-7 during Hastin's first season as head coach, following that up with steadily improving records of 5-5, 8-3 and 5-1 as he built the program up to prominence. In a culminating game during their most recent COVID-shortened season, the Tigers hung tough with West Linn before eventually losing to the powerhouse Lions 33-7 in a match between two of the state's top teams.
Hastin may be gone, but much of last year's team personnel remains, with a new batch of talented youngsters rising through the junior varsity and freshman programs.
"The most important thing is coming in with the same work ethic and passion for football, like Kevin had," Johnson said. "I've heard stories of what he helped establish as far as culture and holding kids accountable, and I want to come in and respect all the work that's been done while building on that. It'll be important to listen closely to those connected to the program and start to make my own imprint. Our next step is to become one of the best programs in the state."
Johnson doesn't run the Wing-T offense like Hastin, opting instead for the Fly offense that relies heavily on big plays downfield through the air, along with a steady diet of run plays off the edges. The players returning to Newberg, including a stable of talented running backs and experienced signal-caller Levi Durrell, fit into the mold Johnson said he's envisioning.
"I think the personnel we have here (are) ready to compete," Johnson said. "Schematics are a neat thing and you're always trying to out-leverage your opponent, but when you have kids that fly around and play hard the way these guys do, any scheme can work. It's really about building a mentality of playing hard."
Summer workouts will happen throughout the next few months, with Newberg's football season set to kick off in early September. With pandemic restrictions easing around the state, a full-length season with fans in the stands is in the offing.
The 2021 schedule will test the Tigers' mettle against stiff competition, both in and out of Pacific Conference play. Newberg will open its season with a road game at West Salem on Sept. 3. After that, the Tigers host McNary and Sheldon on Sept. 10 and 17, play Tigard and Sherwood on the road Sept. 24 and Oct. 1, play at home against Glencoe on Oct. 15, visit rival McMinnville on Oct. 22, and finish off the season with a home contest against Century.
For more information on the schedule, visit OSAA.org.
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