New coach has NSA on list

Published 7:17 pm Saturday, January 1, 2011

Former Western Branch coach takes new post

When Lew Johnston left Western Branch’s football program after more than 30 years as an assistant or head coach, he couldn’t make it through the following football season without getting back into the game.

“I found as the year went along I missed working with the kids,” Johnston said.


Johnston broadcasted local high school games for Chesapeake TV 48. Then Johnston accepted an offer to coach kids again, even younger kids, coaching football and being a guidance counselor at Jolliff Middle School in Chesapeake, where he’s been for the last three years.

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Initially, he was hesitant about coaching middle school football.

“High school is challenging enough. So, when I was asked about middle school, I thought about it and prayed about it before saying, ‘Yes, this will be good.’”

A similar line of thought has guided Johnston to be Nansemond-Suffolk’s new football coach.

Johnston and his wife were returning home from a Thanksgiving trip and drove past NSA along Route 460.

“We were coming back from Blacksburg. We rode past the campus and the football field is beautiful and I can’t remember if I said it or my wife said it, but we said it would be neat to coach there one day,” Johnston said.

Kevin Allen announced his resignation a week later. Johnston inquired about the opening soon after.

“I went in and talked with (Betty Jean) Riddick (NSA’s athletic director) and I asked her hundreds of questions,” Johnston said.

“I left the meeting very impressed and thinking this would be a neat situation,” he said.

Riddick gave Johnston a copy of the school’s student handbook, a document with nothing to do with football, yet it had a lot to do with Johnston’s optimism.

“Every year at Western Branch and Jolliff, I give players and parents a policy sheet before the season. NSA’s handbook includes everything I expect of my football players,” Johnston said.

“I think the main thing is how you treat the kids. It’s very important a coach respects them and in turn, they have to respect you back,” he said.

A good fit still leaves lots of work before next fall. Johnston will be installing the wing-T offense he used in winning five Southeastern District championships from 1997-2006 at Western Branch.

“We’ll run the wing-T. There are several different versions of it,” Johnston said.

At Western Branch, Johnston said his teams were running a college-level offense. His middle school teams at Jolliff were running a high school system. He thinks the Saints will handle a high-level system just fine, but there are plenty of steps to get there.

“I’ll be getting a staff together soon, which is key because I’ll probably have to coach the coaches on (the wing-T) before we can coach the kids on it,” Johnston said.

Johnston replaces Allen, who coached the Saints for two years including to the 2009 state championship (Virginia Independent Schools, Div. 2). NSA went 4-6 this past season.

Johnston’s met with and plans to meet regularly with a group of rising seniors. At their first meeting, Johnston said it was more about the players asking him their questions.

“There’s a lot more than offense and defense. There’s everything in a program behind the scenes, the little things that make a big difference,” Johnston said.