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  • José Luis Villegas /

    Second-ranked Franklin is 5-0 under coach Mike Johnson. Seventeen starters returned this season from a Wildcats team that reached the playoffs last year.

  • José Luis Villegas /

    Franklin coach Mike Johnson takes a hands-on approach to guiding the Wildcats, who are 5-0 and have enough talent to fulfill their big dreams this season.

  • José Luis Villegas /

    Said Franklin's Tre Lampley: "Coach is the leader of this family...(He) keeps us together, keeps us motivated."

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Preps Plus: Franklin is 5-0 and far from finished

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 8C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:06 pm

Never mind that his legs and arm are shot, Mike Johnson takes the snap and muscles the ball 35 yards down field with a whistle in his mouth and defenders in his grille.

Give the 46-year-old Franklin High School football coach a nod for effort. Johnson coaches with passion that includes running drills so every player can see a scheme or tendency.

He implores his upstart bunch to follow suit.

"I wonder if Vince Lombardi ever ran scout-team quarterback," Johnson joked following Monday afternoon's practice.

While Johnson's skills have faded, the Wildcats have plenty of talent and motivation. Franklin is 5-0 and ranked No. 2 by The Bee. There is a sense of urgency on the Elk Grove campus that still looks new. Seventeen starters returned from a playoff group. A balanced offense and a swarming defense have the Wildcats, in their 10th varsity season, dreaming big.

They want to win the Delta Valley Conference. They want to beat Grant for the first time Friday. They want to topple top-ranked Elk Grove later this month. They want a 10-0 regular season, and to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship. Winning a regional playoff berth also would be nice, followed, of course, by a state bowl bid.

"We want it all," said a grinning Trent Spallas, the Franklin quarterback with a nice arm and who can run. "We're in the right situation with all the right pieces in place, and it all starts with the coach."

The 6-foot-5 Johnson was a three-sport athlete at Westmont High in Campbell in the mid- 1980s. His father, Dave, coached for 35 years in the Bay Area. His grandfather Al was a coaching fixture in Southern California, so much so that the athletic department at Wilson High in Long Beach bears his name.

Johnson's calm demeanor and good nature belies his competitive spirit.

He charged after Lincoln of Stockton coaches following a playoff loss last season, furious that the Trojans piled on a late touchdown in a rout.

"To see our coach upset like that showed us he really cared, and we already knew he did," Franklin senior all-purpose star Tre Lampley said. "Coach is the leader of this family. He's Pops. Keeps us together, keeps us motivated."

Johnson coached at Lincoln of Stockton when the Trojans won a section championship in 2000. Following that season, he left for Franklin and the challenge of a new school in the expanding Elk Grove Unified School District.

"I'm a goal-oriented guy, and this was a great challenge," Johnson said.

Johnson stepped away from Franklin football for the 2009 season to coach his sons in youth football. He returned in 2010. He still squeezes in weekend youth duty for a program that includes his seventh-grade son Brady. His sophomore son Brandon is on the Franklin junior varsity.

"I came back to high school coaching here because I'm a part of this school, an original teacher, and I have a lot of passion for this place," Johnson said.

Johnson downplays his impact as a coach, however, pointing to assistants and team leaders. He insists the best coach at the dinner table is his wife, Gina. She has led the Delta College women's basketball team to nine conference championships and three state semifinal appearances.

"I'd have no problem pulling her to the floor," said Johnson, who met his wife while they were students at Cal Poly. "We used to play on co-ed teams. I rebounded and kicked it out to her to shoot. That made her happy."

Johnson said his wife taught him a coaching ploy this fall of delegating work to captains. Franklin's seven captains – Lampley, Spallas, defensive back Marcus Green, linebacker Joey Banks, running back Christian Fonbuena and linemen Connor Adams and William Vi – each have a group of seven to work with. Johnson meets with his captains every Tuesday to discuss the team. The captains work with their groups to go over everything. How things are in class. Homework concerns. Who sits where on the bus trip.

The Wildcats had a bye last Friday, but they remained together for a catered team dinner in the gym followed by skits. Guess which coach was ribbed the most?

Johnson is known to squeeze his play chart and rub his stomach during anxious moments.

"My group won the skit," a proud Spallas said. "We're having fun while we also work hard on goals. We know we have something special here this year."

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