Mike Johnson has done enough, seen enough, experienced enough.
Soon, it will be time to exhale.
His 25th year of high school coaching will conclude this season, but not before one last go in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs. Johnson leads the upstart Franklin Wildcats into Modesto on Thursday night with aim to topple a 10-0 Gregori program, and to keep the momentum going.
“This is it, the last hurrah,” Johnson said. “It’s a good time to bow out. It’s time to get new blood into the program, and how fun to go on the road after a 10-0 monster.”
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Johnson’s impact will be lasting. He started the program from scratch at Franklin in the Elk Grove Unified School District in 2002, and after some lean early days, common for new programs, the Wildcats became an annual contender. Franklin produced three Delta League championships and 10 playoff teams, including a 12-1 team in 2012.
Johnson won a section D-I title at Lincoln in Stockton in 2000 with an upset of 13-0 Elk Grove. He was a section Model Coach winner in 2013, an honor big on sportsmanship.
“It’s never easy to start from scratch, but we got better,” Johnson said. “I’m extremely happy with what we’ve done.”
Johnson is especially close to this group of seniors. He has he has mentored 15 of them since their youth days when Johnson did double-duty coaching the Junior Wildcats and varsity Wildcats, who are 7-3 this season.
Among the team leaders this season are his son Brady Johnson, a 4.1 student and the program’s second all-time leading receiver. He has fielded recruiting interest from UC Davis and Cal Poly, among others. Older brother Brandon Johnson is at Boise State, up to his ears in video production and film breakdown work for the Broncos football team.
Linebacker John Montgomery is a two-year team captain, like Brady, and is the third leading tackler in program history. Jalen Lampley has totaled 12 touchdowns as a runner and receiver – and he has scored five times on special teams. Daniel Ross, who “leads by his examples,” Johnson said, has rushed for 754 yards and eight touchdowns. The team’s best lineman has been defensive tackle Jershon Cocker, who has 75 tackles.
“I know these kids,” Johnson said. “For me, it’s not just a bunch of kids I’ve had for two years. I’ve had them for a long time and have seen them go through the gamut.”
Johnson added, “The great thing with this team is we’ve got some good leaders and good followers. Sometimes, it’s hard to be a follower. There’s a belief here that when some of our better leaders talk, people listen. And Daniel Ross has been full bore, every play, and leads by his actions. And I’m super excited for my son. He’s seen our great teams. He’s super passionate. He learned how to walk on a football field. He knows the history here. It’s gone fast.”
Johnson has long maintained that the best coach at the dinner table is his wife, Gina, the head women’s basketball coach since 1996 at Delta College in Stockton, where the Mustangs have won 11 conference championships under her watch.
“Gina and I will finally be empty-nesters,” Johnson said with a laugh. “It does allow for some freedom.”