BY DEBBIE PAGE
Self-described military brat Mitch Johnson, son of a Delta Force special ops soldier, is committed to building a tradition of excellence, emphasizing integrity, work ethic, positive mindset, and sense of family in the South Iredell High football program as he prepares for his first season as the head coach.
Although he’s not a North Carolina native, Johnson spent 16 years living in the Fort Bragg area, so he feels like he’s returning home after a four-year stint as head coach at Appleton West High in Appleton, Wisconsin, and one year at Lake Mead Christian Academy in Henderson, Nevada.
Johnson, 32, earned a B.A. in Business Administration with marketing and economics minors from Eureka College in Illinois. He has ten years of teaching and coaching experience.
After his first couple of weeks at SIHS, Johnson said the school’s pride and tradition is clear in the community support it receives.
“It’s been one of the best weeks of my life,” he said after his first week on the job. “The students are unbelievable — hard-working, well-behaved, and driven. I want to stay here as long as they’ll have me!”
The kindness and Southern hospitality he and fiancée Darsity, who holds a master’s degree in social work, have experienced has also been phenomenal.
“We feel like we have found a place to call home,” he said. “Everyone has been welcoming and supportive, willing to help out and be there for her and me.”
In his spare time, Johnson enjoys travel, baseball, and weightlifting, as well as playing with his German shepherd. He also enjoys attending coaching clinics to feed his love of knowledge and growth mindset.
Johnson is already getting to know football players in his physical education, health, and weight-training classes. He sees good leaders with grit who are hungry for success and willing to work hard to transform the football team’s culture.
Johnson also sees the challenges — he’s the third football coach in three years. That instability, along with the school’s rise to 4A level play, are obstacles he is determined to overcome.
After spring break, he is holding daily workouts before school, featuring team-building exercises and agility and conditioning training for potential football players, including those in spring sports if they have their coach’s clearance.
Ten spring football practices are scheduled for May, with community members, parents, and college coaches invited to watch.
This summer players will work on skills and conditioning from 6 to 10 a.m. on Monday through Thursday and from 8 to 10 a.m. on Fridays.
Johnson is also scheduling summer 7-on-7 games with other schools. In these skill-building games, receivers are down by a one-hand touch instead of a full tackle. The game is focused on passing only with no offensive rushing plays.
The team will also attend summer camps and hold other team activities to create strong bonds among the players.
Johnson also plans to reach down to the middle school and youth sport level to build a vertical alignment with the SIHS feeder programs. He wants to assist coaches in building football skills in youth leagues, which he sees as an extension of his program and the school.
He also wants players to be involved with middle school athletes, serving as lunch or reading buddies, and will push them to get involved in community service projects to “give back the support that the community gives us.”
WELL-ROUNDED STUDENT ATHLETES
Johnson believes football is a great vehicle to develop a well-rounded student athlete. “They learn life skills that they don’t learn in other places through the blood, sweat, tears, and grind,” he said.
He wants to build a culture of success on the field and for life as he and his staff mold, shape, and develop the young men on the team.
Johnson will also have team-building sessions every Wednesday, which will include workshops on character and presentations from motivational speakers, college representatives, and alumni speakers to guide students to reach the next level on and off the field.
The white board in Johnson’s office lists “love” as the team’s focal point as they build a true team family, one built on selflessness and playing for each other rather than themselves.
He describes his ideal football player as “disciplined, tough, and passionate” with a keen sense of the assignment and role, sportsmanship, and integrity.
In the classroom, school and community, Johnson expects players to set a standard of excellence for the football program as accountable leaders and role models with impeccable manners. He expects players to perform at their best level at all times and remember that their attention to the little things on the field and in the classroom add up to big things in the future.
Johnson is currently concluding interviews to build his assistant coaching staff. He is looking for people of character who are selfless leaders, hard-working, accountable, and positive role models, and for coaches who value professional growth and development, seeking to be head coaches themselves in the future.
Johnson’s game planning process involves film study of the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, awareness of his team’s strengths and weaknesses, and creating strategies to match up the team’s strengths to the opponent’s weaknesses as a plan of attack.
Typical in-season afternoon practices begin with position specific routines, dynamic warm-ups, and communication of practice goals with the team. The first part of the practice focuses on either the offensive or defensive unit, followed by special teams work and then focus on the other unit.
Players will watch game film, attend study hall, and complete workouts before school. They will also have team-building meals each Thursday.