Just outside Manassas, 25-year-old former Virginia Tech defensive back Loren Johnson was introduced as the new head football coach at Stonewall Jackson High School. At his age, such a job is most ambitious.
The same day, 24-year-old Dan Laing accepted the play-by-play broadcast position for the Potomac Cannons’ minor league baseball team. At any age, doing that job well takes oodles of ambition. If you call a home run and no one hears it, is it still a home run?
One grew up in Miami but attended college in Virginia. The other grew up in Pennsylvania and went to the University of Miami. Their paths likely won’t ever cross in this increasingly diverse county, but their challenges have a few similarities.
For Johnson, a 1998 all-Big East performer who has not previously been a head coach, taking over an 0-10 team will call for all the enthusiasm he can muster. If first impressions are worth anything, it appears he’ll certainly command his share of respect from the players — and not just because he has played in an Orange Bowl and a Sugar Bowl, and played with the one and only Michael Vick.
“Six or seven years from now, there’s no way any of the players here will remember me playing,” Johnson said. “I just want them to know me as Coach Johnson.”
Results can change in a hurry, as Osbourn Park coach Brian Beaty has successfully shown in his two years since departing from Woodbridge’s staff. No other Group AAA coach in the county is younger than 37, but the Raiders might be able to relate to a 25-year-old whose influences include Frank Beamer.
A marketing and education major in Blacksburg, Johnson will no doubt have his share of marketing to do with Stonewall. But just two years ago, the Raiders came one win from the playoffs, so a turnaround certainly could happen.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is focus on ourselves,” Johnson said, when asked about entering one of the state’s Group AAA football hotbeds. “When we get into a situation of worrying about what everyone else does, that puts us behind the eight-ball.”
While Johnson won’t know exactly what he’s facing until practices begin in August, Laing has less than a month to settle into his new job. The pressure’s completely different as an announcer than as a coach, but in both jobs your performance is somewhat open to the public.
Laing’s resume already includes 11/2 years in production for the Florida Marlins’ radio network, but his true passion is behind the microphone. After a year as the No. 2 voice for one of Potomac’s Carolina League rivals, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, he’s looking forward to “getting more innings” this year.
That phrase — getting more innings — is normally reserved for pitchers with injury problems, not announcers who’d like to talk even more. Laing, though, knows you can’t really know how good you are until you give it a whirl as the top man.
Laing will turn 25 on April 3, the same exact day as Chicago Cubs second baseman Bobby Hill — a star on the 1999 national championship Miami team that Laing covered. On April 4, Laing will begin his season of 140 Webcasts (sorry Cannons fans, still no radio deal) with Potomac’s visit to Salem.
“I’m just looking through a list of all the prospects,” Laing said earlier this week. “I can’t wait to get started. A lot of scouts say the Carolina League’s the best league in baseball.”
Johnson, not surprisingly, can’t wait to get started either. He’s already teasing activities director Ira DeGrood about improving the weight room, which actually is in pretty good shape.
“This opportunity arose and it was a great place to start,” Johnson said. “I have a chance to excel, and it allows me to put 150 young men [in the entire Stonewall football program] a chance to excel.”
And one thing’s for sure: He won’t rule anyone out because they’re too young.
Lacy Lusk is a staff writer for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Contact him at [email protected] .