New coach Johnson tasked with keeping Tigers on track
LEVITTOWN >> Ben Johnson has found himself in a very unusual position as he embarks on his first season as the head football coach at Harry S Truman High.
It’s not very often that a school will make a coaching change on the heels of the best season in the history of its program, but that’s essentially what’s happened at Truman, which claimed a share of the Suburban One League National Conference last year, toppled longtime nemesis Neshaminy, and came within a field goal of advancing to the last 16 of the Pennsylvania state Class 6A playoffs.
It’s rarer still that a new coach will be endowed with a roster deep in talent and experience at virtually every position group. But that’s the position where Johnson finds himself in his first head coaching gig following 16 years as an assistant coach, primarily in Delaware County.
Previously he was offensive coordinator at Penn Wood, as well as offensive and defensive line coach at Ridley, where he was part of a Central League championship. Now, Johnson has replaced Mike LaPalombara, a longtime Pennsbury High assistant coach who took over a 3-7 Truman program in 2017, surrounded himself with an all-star squad of assistant coaches, and helmed the Tigers to a 10-2 record, including a playoff win, in his second year.
“Coach LaPalombara and (his assistants) did a phenomenal job laying a foundation of what I want to do at Truman High School,” Johnson said. “The X’s and O’s are very important, but what we do inside the building is ultimately what I’ll be judged by.”
Harry S. Truman 2019 Schedule
Johnson plans to emphasize GPAs and graduation rates as much as blocking, tackling, and winning football games. He wants kids to be able to take advantage of college opportunities that may arise. And there are plenty of college prospects on the roster.
Senior running back Terrence Rogers returns after surpassing 1,000 rushing yards last year in the run-heavy wing-T offense that LaPalombara and his staff imported from Pennsbury. He will remain a featured option in Johnson’s offense, which will work from a variety of formations including a pro set, the I formation, a single back set, the wishbone, and a spread formation.
“Terrence has done a tremendous job working hard in the offseason,” the coach said. “He has very good command of the offense. He’s a power back but has wonderful burst speed. He’s going to find the hole and go.”
The offense will also feature two enormous tight ends, including 6-7 senior Kashun Holden and 6-8 junior Zayyan Saunders. Holden made his name as a blocker last year, but he has good speed and is a good route runner with reliable hands, according to Johnson. He’s looking forward to the opportunity to catch more passes.
Likewise, Saunders is “very fast for his size” with excellent vertical leap. Johnson will try to use him to stretch defenses with downfield routes. Saunders has been heavily recruited by FBS and FCS college programs, according to the coach.
Elsewhere on the line, four of the five positions feature returning starters, including 6-8 senior Lawrence Baldwin at left tackle. Competition has been fierce during training camp along the line, among the wide receiver corps, and at quarterback.
“People who come to watch us expecting to see three yards and a cloud of dust are in for a surprise,” said Johnson. “We want to take what the defense gives us, but we look forward to throwing the ball. We believe we have the quarterbacks, tight ends, and wide receivers to do it.”
There’s no shortage of depth on defense, either. Seven of the 11 positions are returning starters or have significant varsity experience. Junior tackle David Blay leads the way. He was an All-Suburban One League selection in 2018. Holden and Saunders are prototype bookend defensive ends, while Baldwin will fill a tackle position. Rogers will see action at defensive back.
“Our goal is to prove that we can win consistently at Truman High School, just like Pennsbury, just like Neshaminy, and just like North Penn,” Johnson said. “These kids have won for two consecutive years. This year is huge for making a statement about what Truman football is all about.”
By Rick Fortenbaugh; email@example.com