The Decision

Eugene, OR-Sheldon head football coach Mary Johnson knew there would be a decision to be made as soon as he walked off the high school’s football field on Friday November 26th.  The Lake Oswego Lakers beat Johnson’s Irish on their home field 45-14 but hardly anyone was blaming the coaching staff for the loss. The dynamics of sports can sometimes be a funny thing.  Often times the players get all of the praise when their team is winning and the coaches get all the negative press when the team loses.  However at Sheldon High School, the football coach is the most popular guy on school campus.

Will he return to coach his underclassmen in the 2011-2012 school year?  Or will he retire after 14 seasons of being head coach at Sheldon?  Johnson has a decision to make.

This isn’t the first time Johnson has been faced with a decision concerning his future as head coach for the Irish.  Last year Sheldon entered the 2009 football season ranked as the #1 team in the state.   With a deep team featuring 29 seniors coach Johnson and his players set their goals high.  It was expected that the senior heavy team land in the state championship game at Reser Stadium on December 12th.  Sheldon went through the regular season and post season undefeated and met with Jesuit High School in the state championship game.  The Irish went on to beat the Jesuit Crusaders 50-43 and win their 3rd state championship under coach Johnson.  Winning the state championship was a remarkable accomplishment and one that the Sheldon program wanted to soak in.  However not long after the final seconds wound down, once again all eyes were on head Johnson.  Parents, underclassmen, and Sheldon High School and the rest of the state were wondering if Johnson would return to coach Sheldon in 2010.

Luckily for the players and the rest of the Sheldon football program, coach Johnson decided to come back to coach for another year.  His son, Jordan Johnson, lead the 2009 Sheldon football team to a state championship as quarterback in his senior season.  Jordan accepted a scholarship to the University of Montana and was planning on red-shirting his freshman season.  “The original play for him was to red-shirt,” says coach Johnson, “that has changed this year, so had I known that, I don’t know if that would have been a big enough deal to coach this year or not.”  Johnson has done an unbelievable job of balancing his family life and his coaching job at Sheldon.  Johnson has been able to make all of 2 of his son’s games this season.   “It’s been a hard season and I’ve traveled a lot on the weekends trying to get to his games, but the kids have been unbelievably supportive.”

Sheldon Varsity Football Team 2009-2010 Roster 2010-2011 Roster
Seniors 22 20
Juniors 16 20
Sophomores 12 10
Freshman 3 1

The state of Oregon thought that the Irish would not be competitive in the state title race this year after graduating so many seniors from last season.  “We knew we had a lot of good players behind all of those seniors so it wasn’t as much as a surprise to us as I think it was to people outside of our program.”  Johnson says that he is not surprised about his team’s success this season.  “The guys that are playing, I’m not really surprised, they are just doing what they expect themselves to do and what we expect them to do,” says Johnson.  Junior quarterback Dillon Miller says it’s no surprise to him that Sheldon is succeeding this season.  “We work hard every week to prepare for the games every week.  I think that we prepare like we play,” says Miller.

The Irish have been ranked the #1 team in state of Oregon throughout the majority of the current 2010 football season.  However Johnson does admit that there are differences between last years state championship team and this year’s top ranked team.  “It doesn’t have the players with all of the varsity experience.”  But Johnson has happily welcomed the challenge, “In some ways it’s made it a little more fun because some people didn’t expect us to be this good,” says Johnson.  “I think it took maybe a little pressure off our players and allowed them to gain that valuable varsity experience eat the beginning of the season without high unbelievable expectations.”  Johnson is quick to not take the credit for his teams continued success this season.  He insists that it’s the Sheldon football program that makes the team a consistent competitor in state. Turns out the players have bought into what their coach has been telling them all season.  “Everyone thought we were going to have a down year, everyone outside of our team,” says sophomore wide receiver Connor Strahm.  “We expected to win and we knew if we played well we could go pretty far.”

1st Place Finishes Marty Johnson’s 14 years as head coach
League Championships 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010
State Championships 2002, 2007, 2009

 

Alex Whipple has had a unique experience with the Sheldon football system, different from anyone else in the program.  Whipple, age 23, grew up playing for coach Johnson at Sheldon High School.  After graduating from the University of Oregon, Whipple expressed his aspirations of coaching to Johnson.  Johnson welcomed him to the coaching staff this fall as a wide receiver and defensive backs coach.   Whipple says he has a whole new outlook on his appreciation for Johnson after experiencing coaching.  “As a player you see your coaches as your coaches, but now they are my colleagues.  You’re hanging out with them every day as opposed from them teaching you everyday,” says Whipple.

As the season comes to an end for seniors on the Sheldon football team, Whipple can’t help but reflect back on his experiences as a player.  “Hands down some of the best memories of my life,” says Whipple.  “The memories and friendships that were made during those years were amazing and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Whipple says he tries to shed light on the current seniors playing in their final season wearing Sheldon uniforms.  “You don’t realize how quickly it can end until it’s over and you don’t have any games left, then you have to turn your gear in next Monday.” Senior Dontee Prevost says it’s the off the field lessons that he is most grateful for.  “[The coaches] have shown us how to be a leader, they have shown us how to have companionship,” says the wide receiver and defensive end.

Sheldon’s season has come to an end, Johnson does realize that there is going to be a time when he will have to retire from coaching football.  Still he remains confident that the Irish will continue their success.  “I know everyone is replaceable and they [Sheldon] will be fine when I do decide to not do it [coach] anymore.”

Whether or not Johnson returns to the sideline in the fall, he has had a lasting impact on all of the players he has coached.  “He is honestly like a father figure to me.  Not even as a football coach but as a mentor.  He preaches first and foremost to be a good guy, be a good friend, and a good person in the community.  Don’t cut corners and be a champion, that’s the biggest thing,” says Whipple.

Coach Johnson will take the next couple of weeks to decide on whether or not he will return for his 15th season as Sheldon’s head football coach.  Until then, the Sheldon community will be waiting anxiously for his answer.  His decision will surely have a great impact on all of the lives he has touched over the past fifteen years.

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