The Raiders’ new leader

MANASSAS — Following a tradition of hiring 25-year-old coaches, Stonewall Jackson High School has hired former Virginia Tech defensive back Loren Johnson as its first new head football coach since 1977.

Johnson, with two years experience as a high school assistant and two as a Hokies’ graduate assistant, becomes the youngest person in his job in the area.

“Things have to change, or you wouldn’t even have butterflies,” Johnson said Monday of getting his first head coaching job.

A class president for three years in high school in south Florida, Johnson brought his leadership skills to Virginia Tech. In Blacksburg, he was an all-Big East performer in his senior year before helping with the Hokies’ recruiting and conditioning in 1999 and 2001. During the 2000 and 2002 seasons, he was an assistant coach for Lord Botetourt High School in the Roanoke area. He now teaches at Glenvar High School, also in Southwestern Virginia.

“We’re going to be attacking — that’s all I know,” Johnson said of what he expects his head-coaching style to resemble. “We can’t sit back and be passive; I’ve never been passive or been coached to be that way.”

Johnson also promised to adopt Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer’s dedication to special teams. He plans on teaching fundamentals to a Raider team coming off the only 0-10 season in Powell’s tenure. Powell went 137-120-4 until his contract was not renewed following last season.

Not yet born when then-25-year-old Jim Powell took over the Stonewall program in 1977, Johnson was also a strong candidate at Dinwiddie, another Group AAA school. He interviewed at that Central Region school and showed moderate interest in a few vacancies in Tidewater before focusing on Stonewall. He said Monday that this area was the best fit for him and his fiancee, Kimberly Strong, who is seeking a job in higher-education administration.

“I’ve heard about the good years and the bad years here,” Johnson said. “I can’t put my finger on that and I don’t want to try.”

Instead, Johnson wants to hone in on the players’ attitudes. He will meet with the Raider players today.

“The first thing they’ve got to be is young men; they’ve got to be gentlemen,” Johnson said. “They’ve got to be great academic students, not good. If you’re at the front of the classroom and paying attention, I know I don’t have to worry about you when it’s time for football.”

After playing at Virginia Tech, where he started every game from 1996-98, Johnson played for the NFL Europe’s Frankfurt Galaxy in the spring of 2000. The next year, he joined the New Jersey Gladiators of the Arena Football League. Following his release from the Gladiators, he played in the AFL’s minor league with the Roanoke Steam.

Johnson has wanted to coach since his senior year at Miramar (Fla.) High School. “A local newspaper reporter asked me what I’d like to be if I didn’t make it in pro football, and I knew then,” he said.

Despite having played in a Sugar Bowl and an Orange Bowl, Johnson wants his players to know him first as a coach, not as someone they have seen play on television.

“If you’re around him long enough, you can look into his eyes and you can see [a coaching quality],” Stonewall activities director Ira DeGrood said. “He has the integrity and values we were looking for. He was the best person for the job.”

DeGrood said the school received 40-45 applicants for the position. From that group, a committee of six (including parents, administrators and coaches) chose 10 coaches to interview. Three of them were invited back for another interview, with Johnson getting the job.

Johnson will lead the strength and conditioning class at Stonewall. At Tech, he majored in marketing education and earned a master’s degree in health and physical education.

“We talked about his age, but if you think about it real hard, Coach Powell was 25 when he started,” DeGrood said.

According to DeGrood, about 40 percent of the entire pool had head-coaching experience, with half of the last 10 in that category. No records are kept regarding the state’s and nation’s youngest coaches, but Johnson is definitely the only 25-year-old coach in the area. He’s also the second current black coach in charge of a Prince William County program, joining Osbourn Park’s Brian Beaty.

“I’ve said a number of times in the last couple weeks that I’m going to be the youngest coach in America,” Johnson said. “Now I want to be the best.”

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